Elderly patients increasingly using patient portals, National Poll on Health Aging finds

Older adults and elderly patients are increasingly setting up and using patient portals, although seniors don't always like communicating their health information by computer, according to the National Poll on Health Aging.

About 2,000 adults between the ages of 50 and 80 responded to the poll, which was conducted by the Ann Arbor-based University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and sponsored by AARP.

Here are eight survey insights:

1. About half of respondents (51 percent) — or more specifically, 52 percent of adults 50 to 64 years old and 49 percent of adults 65 to 80 years old — have set up a patient portal.

2. Women (56 percent) are slightly more likely than men (45 percent) to use a patient portal.

3. The top reasons respondents said they use their patient portal are for viewing test results (84 percent), refilling prescriptions (43 percent) and scheduling appointments (37 percent).

4. Older adults — aged 65 to 80 years — were more likely to say that they do not like communicating about their health by computer (62 percent) compared to their younger counterparts (46 percent).

5. Common reasons respondents cited for not setting up a patient portal include: disliking communicating about their health via computer (40 percent); not having a need for a portal (38 percent); and not knowing they had to set something up (33 percent).

6. Of the adults who have not set up a portal, 26 percent were very concerned there was a larger chance of error with a portal than talking with someone by phone or in person.

7. Of the adults who have set up a portal, 43 percent have authorized another person to see their portal information such as their spouse or partner (37 percent), an adult child (5 percent) or another family member (2 percent).

8. Respondents also noted advantages and disadvantages of using patient portals compared to calling their provider by phone:

  • Its ability to explain their request: 21 percent rated the portal as better, 47 percent rated the phone as better and 32 percent rated them about the same.
  • Its ability to garner a timely response: 34 percent said the portal is better, 36 percent said the phone is better and 30 percent said they are about the same.
  • Its ability to help them understand information from their providers: 30 percent said the portal is better, 27 percent said the phone is better and 43 percent said they are about the same.

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