Older age among barriers to patient portal use, poll finds

Oct 9, 2018
Older age among barriers to patient portal use, poll finds

A nationwide survey found that being age 65 or older was a barrier to patient portal use – even in those who had already signed up.

New findings from the National Poll on Healthy Aging reports that just half of those between 50 and 80 had set up a profile on a patient portal offered by their care provider.

Most, 84%, had viewed blood or other test results online, but just 43% had refilled a prescription and 37% had booked an appointment. A little over one quarter, 26%, had asked for and received health advice using an electronic health records system.

“The healthcare system has provided patient portals as an efficient way for patients to communicate with their providers. But many older adults are uncomfortable with electronic interactions substituting for a phone call or in-person conversation,” said Sarah Clark, Co-Associate Director of the poll and an Associate Research Scientist at the University of Michigan Medical School.

Concerns over technology

People over 65 were more likely than those in their 50s and early 60s to say they didn’t like communicating about their health using a computer. The same group were more likely to say they were not comfortable with technology in general.

“In fact, among older adults who hadn’t yet set up access to a patient portal, 52% cited concerns about communicating online about health information. Half said they didn’t see the need for this kind of access to their health information.

“About 40% just hadn’t gotten around to setting up their access yet – these tended to be adults in their 50s and early 60s,” said the team behind the survey, a joint initiative between the University of Michigan and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

They added that the results highlighted some concerns that could be stopping older adults from setting up and logging in to the patient portals available to them.

“Many older adults still prefer telephone contact with their providers,” said poll director and University of Michigan Medical School professor Preeti Malani, highlighting that 47% of poll respondents said calling was a better way to explain their request.

“We hope providers, and health systems, will take these findings into consideration when designing the ways patients can interact with them.”

But among those who had signed up for a portal, the respondents were almost evenly split as to who said the phone was faster for getting an answer, those who said the portal was, and those who thought they were the same.

Comfortable, assessable, secure information

“Convenience is in the eye of the beholder, and traditional methods of communication with providers still feel more comfortable, accessible, and secure for many older Americans,” said Alison Bryant, Senior Vice President of Research for AARP.

“There are great opportunities for us to empower both patients and their caregivers through these technologies, however.”


University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging. June 2018 Report: Logging in – Using Patient Portals to Access Health Information. Available from: https://www.healthyagingpoll.org/report/june-2018-report-logging-using-patient-portals-access-health-information (accessed June 2018).

To find out how the Patient Empowerment Network’s Digital Sherpa Program is training tech-savvy young people to train older patients to access health information online, click here.

Older age among barriers to patient portal use, poll finds

Astellas Patient Advocacy is a function within Corporate Affairs at Astellas that focuses on creating, building and maintaining third-party relationships. We serve as a conduit between Astellas and external stakeholders to help improve patient outcomes, improve access issues and address patients’ unmet needs head on.

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