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Patient Portal Adoption Diverges Among Older Generation

By Vera Gruessner

Under the Stage 3 Meaningful Use proposed rule, providers would need to ensure that at least 25 percent of their patients accessed, downloaded, and transmitted their medical information. While this exact percentage may change after the comment period, providers know that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will continue pushing patient engagement and patient portal adoption throughout the healthcare sector.

However, one of the reasons that providers are struggling in ensuring patients access and download their health data through the patient portal is due to the aging population of their typical consumers. Since the baby boomer generation is aging and older adults are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions, this sect of the population dominates the healthcare field.

Researchers from Northwestern University published a study in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association about the common discrepancies of patient portal adoption among elderly patients.

Out of 534 adults, the youngest subjects studied were 55 years of age and others were more than 65 years old. The Northwestern Medicine Electronic Data Warehouse was used to study the behavior of patients when registering for the portal and using it to monitor their health. While the majority of patients in the study had their patient portal access code created for them, only of 57.5 percent of those individuals registered their accounts.

Health literacy and a college graduation background actually boosted the likelihood of patient portal adoption and registration. As a background, patient portals often include the ability to view protected health data like lab results and medical history and offer drug prescription refill options, appointment scheduling, and secure messaging capabilities.

Out of all who registered their portal, 90 percent of those subjects messaged their physician and 96 percent examined a test result. Additionally, 55 percent of subjects ordered a reauthorization while only 11 percent monitored their vital health statistics. Higher education was linked with prescription reauthorization requests.

The researchers from Northwestern University found some significant differences among the older generation regarding their patient portal adoption. Some key differences include health literacy, education, and racial disparities.

“There were fewer disparities in the use of the patient portal’s functions, but some observations have important clinical consequences. Highly educated patients were consistently more likely to use the patient portal for prescription refill requests. Alternative methods are available, but they can be more time consuming for the patient and cannot be used when the clinic is closed,” the researchers wrote in the published paper. “Patients with an adequate level of health literacy were nearly 8 times more likely than those with limited health literacy to use the secure patient–physician messaging function.”

Patient portal implementation is expanding throughout the country and providers are gearing up to meet patient engagement objectives under the meaningful use requirements. However, there are clear disparities with regard to patient portal adoption that providers need to be aware of. Essentially, the researchers concluded that providers who implement patient portals in their medical practice should also create strategies for monitoring and decreasing discrepancies in the use of these tools.




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