Equity in the use of medical innovations at center of assistant professor’s work with CATALYST, Ohio State

By Tyler Griesenbrock
CATALYST scientific editor


Sarah MacEwan Patient portals – health information technology tools that link patients to their personal information and care team – are an increasingly common component of the health care experience, and The Ohio State University’s Sarah MacEwan, PhD, is at the forefront of research on their use and usefulness.

Dr. MacEwan completed her postdoctoral training in health services research with CATALYST – the Center for the Advancement of Team Science, Analytics, and Systems Thinking in Health Services and Implementation Science Research – before transitioning in January 2022 to an assistant professor position with the Ohio State Division of General Internal Medicine.

“As a biomedical engineer and health services researcher, I am interested in the adoption of health technology to improve health outcomes, patient experience, and the processes of patient care in the primary care setting,” Dr. MacEwan said. “I am particularly interested in the role of patient engagement to empower patients in the management of their health through the use of patient-facing technologies.”

Patient portals such as Epic Systems’ MyChart and MyChart Bedside, in use at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, are at the center of her recent work. Dr. MacEwan was the lead author for “Identifying the role of inpatient portals to support health literacy: Perspectives from patients and care team members,” published in Patient Education and Counseling, which analyzed interviews with stakeholders to identify portal features that positively influenced health literacy. 

In addition, she led a CATALYST poster presentation at the 2022 AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting in Washington, D.C., titled “Training and promotion to support inpatient portal use: Impact on perceptions of self-efficacy, ease of use, and usefulness.”

“I am excited to extend this work on patient portals to investigate strategies to promote portal use in new patient populations, as well as extend the general principles of this research to other health technologies, such as remote monitoring in the management of chronic conditions,” Dr. MacEwan said.

“It is important to me that my research serves to improve the equitable accessibility of health technology, as inequities in the adoption of these tools in populations that have been historically marginalized presents a risk of furthering health disparities in a health care landscape that increasingly relies on technology to engage patients in managing their health,” she added. 

“These inequities lie at the intersection of many factors, including health literacy, self-efficacy, social determinants of health, geographic location, and internet access. Through my research, I hope to illuminate the source and scope of these inequities to understand how to better support the use of technologies in populations experiencing health disparities.”

Before coming to Ohio State, Dr. MacEwan earned a PhD in biomedical engineering from Duke University and conducted postdoctoral research in molecular engineering at the University of Chicago, focusing on the development of biomaterials to address challenges in the treatment of cancers and autoimmune conditions.

“After gaining experience in the pre-clinical stage of translational research, I was excited to be a part of the translational process that addresses translation to practice and the community through the adoption of medical innovations by patients and their care teams,” Dr. MacEwan  said.

That fit with the mission of CATALYST, which endeavors to support the mission of Ohio State’s College of Medicine “to improve people’s lives through innovation in research” by making sure the work of researchers has a positive effect on the organization and the populations it serves.

The chance to pursue her research goals at Ohio State has been an “incredible gift,” she said, adding, “I am thrilled to be able to continue to work with the CATALYST team as well as develop new collaborations across General Internal Medicine and throughout the Ohio State community.”

For more information about CATALYST and the work done at the Center, visit