Logging on for health: More older adults use patient portals, but access and attitudes vary widely

May 26, 2023
Three-quarters of people aged 50-80 use at least one portal, but use and confidence are lower in those with lower incomes or lower levels of physical or mental health.

Far more older adults these days log on to secure websites or apps to connect with their health information or have a virtual healthcare appointment, compared with five years ago, a new poll shows.

Overall, 78% of people aged 50 to 80 have used at least one patient portal, up from 51% in a poll taken five years ago, according to findings from the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging. Of those with portal access, 55% had used it in the past month, and 49% have accounts on more than one portal.

But the poll also reveals major disparities, with some groups of older adults less likely to use patient portals, or more likely to have concerns about them. Older adults with annual household incomes below $60,000, and those who are Black or Hispanic, have lower rates of portal use, and were less likely to say they’re comfortable using a portal, than respondents who are higher-income or non-Hispanic white.

There were also differences among older adults who don’t use portals or haven’t used one in three or more years. Those who say they’re in fair or poor health physically or mentally were much more likely to say they’re not confident about their ability to log in and navigate a portal than those with better physical or mental health.

Even among older adults who use online portals, the poll shows many still prefer phone calls for some tasks like scheduling appointments or asking a medical question. Portal users in general said they prefer the portal to the phone when it comes to tasks such as getting test results and requesting refills of their prescriptions.

The poll is based at the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and supported by AARP and Michigan Medicine, the University of Michigan’s academic medical center.

University of Michigan release