Research finds older generation just as likely to adopt patient portals

Research finds older generation just as likely to adopt patient portals

The notion that older patients accustomed to traditional methods of communication, health records and physician visits are hesitant and less likely to use patient portals may not be so true after all. In fact, athenaResearch reported that individuals in their 60s are just as likely as their younger counterparts to use patient portals.

By the numbers
Although the highest portal adoption rates are for those in the 30 to 39-years-old category, older groups are not that far behind. Patients in their 60s adopt portals at nearly the same rate as those in their 40s, with 27 percent reporting that they have accessed portal accounts. Engagement begins to taper off as individuals reach the age of 70, but only slightly. Twenty percent of patients with portal accounts are in their 70s. And believe it or not, there's still activity in the 80+ category, with 10 percent in the age group engaging in portal activity.

Increasing digital engagement has revolved around the use of patient portals to enhance the patient-physician relationship for quite some time now. And although providers may be slow to realize, older adults are becoming equally engaged. EHR Intelligence reported that there are several reasons for the increase in portal adoption rates among older individuals, including more time and flexibility, an eagerness to connect with doctors and the management of chronic illness. However, the primary reason may come down to a growing comfort with technology.

A growing comfort with technology
It's not uncommon to believe that the majority of grandparents and even some older parents are out of the loop when it comes to technology. But what most people often fail to recognize is that the older generation is not who they once were. When smartphones first emerged nearly a decade ago, this may have been the case. Today however, there are many people in their 60s who have had smartphones for several years and are extremely adequate users. In the same way, it's often presumed that Medicaid patients will be unlikely to register a portal and thus, providers don't suggest the adoption in the first place, noted EHR Intelligence. In failing to suggest or even mention patient portals to older individuals who may in fact be eager and willing to try out the technology, those providers are missing out on potential users. 

"We have talked to a small number of practices that are equally aggressive about patients in each payer class, and as a result they see essentially very equivalent portal adoption rates. Again, once Medicaid patients do enroll in the portal, they're just as likely as commercially insured individuals to use it," athenaResearch Vice President Josh Gray told EHR Intelligence in an interview.

There's a growing comfort in the use of technology among older generation and it's not a trend that will stop anytime soon. In fact, it's likely as today's generations begin to age, the use of patient portals among older folks will increase significantly.

Making the patient's life easier
The benefits that patients gain from patient portals are a huge factor in adoption rates. These platforms allow patients to remotely access their health records, schedule appointments, engage in secure messaging with their doctor or care team and even pay bills. Essentially, patient portals make the individual's life easier, and recognizing this is a strong reason for them to use the technology. Yet, Gray was quick to note that physician encouragement plays a notable role as well, which he witnessed first hand when comparing Medicaid patients to those who are privately insured. When a physician suggests the importance of a using a portal, a patient is much more likely to listen.

"Turns out [Medicaid patients] use portals a bit less, but those that use them use them just as frequently," Gray stated. "I have a personal hypothesis which is subjective, but I think a lot of it has to do with the expectations and the communication of sufficiency at the front desk."

It's a patient engagement strategy that really works, and if the bias of older generations can be eliminated, more and more people would likely adopt these portals. Additionally, athenaResearch found while practice size neither hinders nor helps adoption rates, in-office registration has yielded the best results for engaging patients.