Hospitals need to tailor patient portal outreach efforts for older adults, study finds

Patient portals offer a unique opportunity for patients and caregivers to actively engage in their treatment—an opportunity that is squandered if hospitals don’t educate patients that could benefit the most.

Although the majority of older patients want to use patient portals, adoption rates have been low among a population that often has limited experience with technology. However, a new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that limited experience with patient portals or internet use wasn’t necessarily correlated to less interest in patient portals—those groups simply needed more help navigating the technology.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Ohio State University noted that most patient portals are introduced via email or a postcard provided during a clinical visit. Although that approach may work for a tech-savvy younger generation, older adults require more deliberate outreach to explain the benefits of patient portals and tailored task-based training. Additionally, incorporating caregivers into the process as a proxy user can improve adoption among older patients without access to a computer.

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Among providers, patient portals are viewed as one of the leading patient engagement tools and a critical element of population health, but practices often need to help patients understand the benefits.

One barrier that is consistent among a range of older patients: Security and privacy. Researchers recommended adding a process in which patients could talk with a hospital representative to update information and address ongoing concerns.