Report: Older Adults Hesitant to Use Patient Portals | Healthcare Informatics Magazine | Health IT | Information Technology Skip to content Skip to navigation

Report: Older Adults Hesitant to Use Patient Portals

June 4, 2018
by Rajiv Leventhal
| Reprints
Click To View Gallery

About half of older adults aged 50 to 80 years old reported they have set up a patient portal, but there are concerns with the technology among this age group, according to the University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging report.

The report specifically found that about half of older adults (51 percent) in this age group reported they have set up a patient portal, with similar rates for those 50 to 64 years old (52 percent) and 65 to 80 years old (49 percent). The survey was administered earlier this year to approximately 2,000 adults in the 50 to 80 age group.

There were some demographic differences, however, with higher proportions setting up a patient portal among women vs. men (56 percent vs. 45 percent), among adults with some college vs. high school only (59 percent vs. 40 percent), and among those with higher vs. lower household income (59 percent for income greater than $60,000 vs. 42 percent for income less than $60,000).

Common reasons cited for not setting up a patient portal included: older adults do not like communicating about their health by computer (40 percent); do not have a need for a portal (38 percent); did not know they needed to set something up (33 percent); have not gotten around to setting up a portal (29 percent); are not comfortable with technology (26 percent); and/or their provider does not offer the option of a portal (26 percent).

To this end, some adults who have not set up a patient portal had concerns about doing so: 26 percent were very concerned that there is a greater chance of error with a portal compared to talking with someone by phone or in person. About one in five (18 percent) were very concerned that they would not know which member of the office staff was answering their question, while 16 percent were very concerned that it might take too long to get a response to their question or request.

What’s more, among adults who have set up a patient portal, the most common use of the portal was to see test results (84 percent). Other common uses were requesting a prescription refill (43 percent), scheduling an appointment (37 percent), requesting reminders about upcoming appointments (34 percent), getting advice about a health problem (26 percent), updating insurance or contact information (22 percent), and requiring a referral (13 percent).

Older adults did note advantages to portals compared with contacting their doctor’s office by phone. With regard to the ability to explain their request, 21 percent rated the portal as better, 47 percent rated phone as better, and 32 percent rated them as about the same. For the amount of time it takes to get a response, 34 percent said the portal is better, 36 percent said the phone is better, and 30 percent said they are about the same. In terms of their ability to understand the information they get from the provider’s office, 30 percent said the portal is better, 27 percent said the phone is better, and 43 percent said they are about the same.

According to the report’s researchers, the data showed that many older adults prefer communicating with their doctor’s office by telephone. They stated, “It is understandable that some patients may prefer a communication method where they can respond in real-time to questions about symptoms or ask for clarification if they do not understand the practice’s instructions. Eliminating barriers to patient portals, while maintaining the option to continue telephone communication, may be the most appropriate strategy to meet the varied needs of older adults.”

Get the latest information on Health IT and attend other valuable sessions at this two-day Summit providing healthcare leaders with educational content, insightful debate and dialogue on the future of healthcare and technology.

Learn More



White House Proposes Restructuring, Renaming HHS as Part of Broad Reorganization Plan

A sweeping government reorganization plan released by the White House Thursday proposes restructuring and renaming HHS, including moving many public assistance programs from USDA to HHS.

CMS Introduces Data Element Library

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced the launch of its Data Element Library (DEL), with the overarching goal to support the exchange of electronic health information.

Data Breach at Health Billing Company Exposes PHI of 270,000 People

A healthcare data breach at Med Associates, a Lathan, N.Y.-based health billing company, that may have exposed the protected health information (PHI) of 270,000 people, according to local media reports.

CMS to Host Blue Button 2.0 Developer Conference

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will host the first Blue Button 2.0 Developer Conference at the General Services Administration national headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Monday, Aug. 13, 2018.

House Passes Bill to Align HIPAA, 42 CFR Part 2

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bill designed to align 42 CFR Part 2 with HIPAA for the purposes of health care treatment, payment, and operations. One goal of the change is so that care can be better coordinated and providers can have appropriate access to all of a patient’s medical record, including information about substance use disorders.

MedStar Health Awarded Grant to Pilot Apps for Patient-Reported Outcome Data

A team of researchers from Maryland-based MedStar Health has been awarded an 18-month contract from AHRQ to support the development and testing of technical tools and apps that can be used to collect patient-reported outcome data.