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Older Americans are increasingly likely to log into “patient portals” to access their health care information — but confidence levels vary.
About 78% of people aged 50 to 80 now use at least one patient portal, according to the new University of Michigan (U-M) National Poll on Healthy Aging.
Five years ago, just 51% in this age range used patient portals, the researchers said.
The poll also found that 55% of those who used patient portals had done so in the past month. About 49% had accounts on more than one portal.
This surge is partly due to the increase in use of telehealth visits, said Denise Anthony, the U-M School of Public Health professor who worked on the poll.
“This change makes access to secure portals even more important for older adults who want to see their doctors and other health care providers virtually. It also makes the disparities we found in our poll even more troubling,” Anthony said in a Michigan Medicine news release.
Older adults with annual household incomes below $60,000, and those who were Black or Hispanic, had lower rates of portal use. These groups were also less likely to say they're comfortable using a portal.
People in fair or poor health physically or mentally were also much more likely to say they're not confident about their ability to log in and navigate a portal, according to the researchers.
"Improving the functionality and accessibility of portal systems, as well as providing more outreach and training to help patients understand and use portal systems, will be crucial to improving equity," Anthony said.
Many older adults still prefer phone calls for scheduling appointments or asking a medical question, though they do prefer the portal to the phone for getting test results and requesting refills of their prescriptions, the poll showed.
With many portals, it's possible to also help manage a loved one's care. About 49% of portal users have done so, according to the poll, up from 43% in 2018.
About 40% of all portal users have given access to a spouse or partner, with nearly half of men doing so compared with about one-third of women.
About 27% of the poll respondents who have used a patient portal in the last year expressed an interest in more training.
But for many seniors, online services still remain out of reach.
“Research shows that while more older Americans are embracing technology, nearly 22 million seniors still do not have wireline broadband access at home, limiting their access to essential digital health care services like patient portals,” said Indira Venkat, AARP senior vice president of research. “Closing the digital divide among older adults is critical to improving their well-being, especially for vulnerable communities and individuals.”
The poll was administered online and by phone in January among more than 2,500 U.S. adults aged 50 to 80. It is based at the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and supported by AARP and Michigan Medicine.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on patient portals.
SOURCE: Michigan Medicine, news release, May 24, 2023
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