Many older adults lack patient portals to schedule COVID-19 vaccines
Many older adults do not have an account for their health care provider’s patient portal, creating a potential barrier to signing up for COVID-19 vaccinations, according to recent poll data.
“The issue right now, for scheduling, is the portal is being used by many health systems not just to schedule an appointment, but to actually get people ‘in line’ in terms of priority,” Preeti Malani, MD, MSJ, chief health officer and a professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the University of Michigan, told Healio Primary Care.
Newly analyzed data from the National Poll of Healthy Aging, conducted in June 2020, showed that 45% of adults aged 65 to 80 years and 42% of those aged 50 to 80 years do not have a patient portal account in their providers’ system.
This demonstrates a slight improvement from March 2018, when 49% of older adults indicated that they did not have patient portal access.
The new analysis found that just under half of Black adults and 53% of Hispanic adults did not have patient portal accounts, while 39% of white patients did not have accounts.
Additionally, the data revealed that 35% of older adults with incomes higher than $60,000 do not have patient portal accounts compared with 54% of those with incomes below $60,000.
The investigators also found a gap based on education level; 53% of older adults with less than a high school-level education did not have a patient portal account compared with 31% of those with a college education.
“The concern we have is that groups of people could have difficulty getting access to the vaccine, and it will be those folks who are already better connected and better supported who get in line sooner,” Malani said.
At Michigan Medicine, patients who are not on the portal will receive letters informing them about COVID-19 vaccine distribution. However, Malani said the process is more efficient when patients are sent the information online.
She stressed that it is important for physicians to ask patients if they have portal access, and to have patients ask their family members if they have an account. She suggested that physicians offer navigators to help people sign up while visiting their practice, and to encourage them to help older family members or friends sign up.
If patients find the process is difficult, Malani advised them to “find someone that you trust — maybe it’s a member of your family, maybe it’s a friend — who can help you with this part.”