Almost half of older adults aren't using patient portals, prompting concerns for vaccine scheduling

More than 40 percent of adults age 50 and older have not set up accounts for their health system's patient portal, which could make it more difficult for them to book appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine, according to recent data from the National Poll on Healthy Aging.

The newly analyzed data in the Jan. 15 report from the National Poll on Health Aging, which is based at the University of Michigan's Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, came from a June 2020 poll of a national sample of more than 2,000 adults ages 50-80.

Six report insights: 

1. Forty-five percent of adults aged 65 to 80 and 42 percent of adults aged 50 to 80 said they have not set up a patient portal account.

2. The results are a slight increase from the last time the poll asked this question in March 2018, with 49 percent of adults in the same age range not having set up portal access.

3. By June 2020, just under 50 percent of Black older adults and 53 percent of Hispanic older adults did not have a patient portal account, compared to 39 percent of white older adults.

4. The biggest gap was between adults with annual household incomes of less than $60,000 a year and those with higher incomes; about 54 percent of the lower-income older adults did not have a patient portal account, compared to 35 percent of higher-income older adults without an account.

5. Preeti Malani, MD, poll director and an infectious disease physician at Michigan Medicine, said that it is especially important right now to encourage older adults to use and help them sign up for portal access if the system is being used as part of the COVID-19 vaccination process.

6. Older adults can also appoint a trusted adult as "proxy" to their portal account if they don't have a computer or need help using the technology, Dr. Malani added.

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