Over 90 percent of healthcare providers offer some type of online patient portal access. Secure patient portals can be accessed via computer or smartphone and used to perform a variety of functions including scheduling appointments, requesting prescription refills, viewing personal health records and even meeting with providers remotely.
Unfortunately, many patients aren't able to use these telehealth services. Some 45 percent of adults in the U.S. over 65 and 42 percent of those over 50 did not have an account with their healthcare provider’s portal system, according to data collected in the summer of 2020 and recently analyzed by researchers at the University Michigan as part of its ongoing National Poll on Healthy Aging.
Provider portals are becoming crucial components of the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination effort, but they could become a barrier instead of a tool. The poll found that seniors cited factors such as not knowing about patient portals, perceiving themselves as not needing to use a portal, and a dislike for discussing personal health information online as just some of the reasons that they hadn’t set up portal accounts. During that same year, 26 percent of seniors didn’t believe their providers had a portal system.
As more healthcare providers join larger health systems, most will offer some type of portal access to help older adults take control of their health in new and innovative ways.
The percentage of adults aged 50 and up who didn’t have a patient portal account dropped from 49 percent in March of 2018 to 42 percent in 2020. But when one peeks behind the numbers, disparities in seniors’ access to online healthcare show up.
The largest gaps observed were between adults with higher income and lower income adults making less than $60,000 a year. While about 54 percent of lower income individuals surveyed did not have or could not access a patient portal account, only 35 percent of higher income adults lacked a portal account.
Education made a difference, too. Over half of those who had not received a high school diploma did not have access to a patient portal account. Only 31 percent of college graduates didn’t have one.
If you haven’t logged into your patient portal in a while or aren’t sure if you have an account, you may want to give it a try before you go to sign up for one of the vaccines.
If you haven’t logged into your patient portal in a while or aren’t sure if you have an account, the study’s authors recommend giving it a try and getting familiar with it before you try to sign up for one of the vaccines.
The National Poll on Healthy Aging study is part of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Health Policy and Innovation.