The usability of electronic personal health record systems for an underserved adult population

Hum Factors. 2015 May;57(3):491-506. doi: 10.1177/0018720814549238. Epub 2014 Sep 5.


Objective: The goals of this study were to identify the demands associated with using electronic personal health records (PHRs) and to evaluate the ability of adults of lower socioeconomic status and low health literacy to use PHRs to perform health management activities.

Background: PHRs are proliferating in clinical practices and health care organizations. These systems offer the potential of increasing the active involvement of patients in health self-management. However, little is known about the actual usability of these tools for health consumers.

Method: We used task analysis and health literacy load analysis to identify the cognitive and literacy demands inherent in the use of PHRs and evaluated the usability of three currently available PHR systems with a sample of 54 adults. Participants used the systems to perform tasks related to medication management, interpretation of lab/test results, and health maintenance. Data were also gathered on the participants' perception of the potential value of using a PHR.

Results: The results indicated that a majority of the participants had difficulty completing the tasks and needed assistance. There was some variability according to task and PHR system. However, most participants perceived the use of PHRs as valuable.

Conclusions: Although considered a valuable tool by consumers, the use of PHR systems may be challenging for many people. Strategies are needed to enhance the usability of these systems, especially for people with low literacy, low health literacy, or limited technology skills.

Application: The data from this study have implications for the design of PHRs.

Keywords: electronic medical records; patient portal; usability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Electronic Health Records*
  • Female
  • Health Records, Personal / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Poverty
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult