Infectious Disease

Many older adults lack affected person portals to plan COVID-19 vaccines

January 25, 2021

2 min read

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Many older adults do not have an account on their healthcare provider’s patient portal, which is a potential barrier to enrolling for COVID-19 vaccinations, according to recent survey data.

“The problem with planning right now is that many healthcare systems use the portal not just to make an appointment, but to actually align staff on priority.” Preeti Malani, MD, MSJ, The chief health officer and professor of medicine in the Department of Infectious Diseases at the University of Michigan told Healio Primary Care.

Reference: National Healthy Aging Survey

Re-analyzed data from the National Healthy Aging Survey conducted in June 2020 showed that 45% of adults aged 65 to 80 and 42% of adults aged 50 to 80 do not have a patient portal account in their providers’ systems.

This shows a slight improvement compared to March 2018, when 49% of older adults said they did not have access to the patient portal.

Photo by Preeti Malani

Preeti Malani

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.

In addition, the data showed that 35% of older adults with incomes greater than $ 60,000 did not have patient portal accounts, compared with 54% of those with incomes less than $ 60,000.

Investigators also found a loophole based on levels of education. 53% of older adults with less than high school education did not have a Patient Portal account, compared with 31% of adults with a college education.

“We are concerned that groups of people may have difficulty getting access to the vaccine and it will be those who are already better connected and better supported who line up earlier,” Malani said.

At Michigan Medicine, patients not on the portal receive letters informing them of COVID-19 vaccine distribution. However, Malani said the process is more efficient when patients get the information online.

She stressed that it is important for doctors to ask patients if they have access to the portal and to have patients ask their family members if they have an account. She suggested that doctors provide navigators to help people sign up while they visit their practice and to encourage them to help older family members or friends sign up.

When patients find the process difficult, Malani advised them to “find someone you trust – maybe a member of your family, maybe a friend – who can help you with this part.”

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