Patient portals are particularly beneficial for seniors

Patient portals are particularly beneficial for seniors

August 22, 2016

Access to medical care is vital for everyone. However, for some groups, it can be limited or prohibitively difficult. One such demographic is seniors, particularly those who have impaired mobility or who live in rural areas. For these people, simply getting to a doctor or pharmacy to receive the care they need can be an uphill battle. Physicians can’t be in multiple places at once, and while house calls may have worked when people lived in small towns, they are no longer a practical way to deliver care.

One of the ways that providers and seniors are bridging that gap is by taking advantage of new technologies. Contrary to the reputation that they are unable to use the latest devices, studies have shown that seniors are willing and able to use patient portals and mobile technology to take more ownership over their own health.

EHR Intelligence, citing research from AthenaResearch, pointed out that patients in their 60s use patient portals at the same rate as younger people. AthenaResearch Vice President Josh Gray underscored this point in an interview with the source, noting, “You do hear from time to time from physician practices that are a little hesitant to encourage their patients to use the portal because they’ll say, ‘hey I serve a very old patient mix, and they don’t like to use portals,'” Gray said. “We found that our empirical data really contradicted that point of view.”

How portals benefit seniors
As people age, it becomes harder and harder for them to get around. At the same time, their health often begins to fail, and they become more liable to suffer from chronic illnesses. This creates a dangerous catch-22: they need more medical attention than before, but because of their flagging health, it is even harder to travel to the doctor. As time goes on, this cycle gets worse.

Therein lies much of the value of patient portals for older patients. The improved communications allow seniors to ask questions, make suggestions and get real-time feedback about their own health, from the providers themselves. One of the most salient reasons that older people are using these systems, explained EHR Intelligence, is that it allows them to feel more connected with their physicians. This is particularly important for those with chronic conditions, which can require continued monitoring.

Seniors are also more likely to be retired, which gives them more time to take the reins when it comes to their own healthcare. Patient portals give them better access to their own records, and important notes can be shared on a permanent basis. In these situations, a person can look up questions regarding their care, without even involving the physician in the process at all.

There is also a pharmacological benefit. In rural areas, where things are more spread out, it can be tricky to get to a doctor, and a real hassle to do so just to get a prescription filled. If a portal allows for e-prescribing, the patient can get it renewed from the comfort of her own home, where it can then be sent automatically to the pharmacy. Fewer trips makes things easier for everyone involved, particularly those whose mobility might be limited.

Today’s seniors are more tech-savvy
The notion that older people are unable to navigate technology is proving to be outdated. David Clain, Manager for AthenaResearch, told EHR Intelligence that this generation of seniors has a greater facility with devices than any of the ones before it. Smartphones have been on the market for well over a decade now, and people in their 60s are used to using them to go online and perform various tasks. Tablets and computers are becoming more intuitive, and have various features to enhance things for a person whose sight might not be what it once was.

This trend will likely continue, Clain and Gray predict. The clear benefits that come with patient portals, in addition to the increasing tech-savviness of today’s seniors, means that technology should have a big role to play in the future of healthcare. And, from a physician standpoint, offering portals is one of the readiest ways to drive engagement.

There are a few very predictable steps that practices can take to boost their enrollment rates,” Gray concluded. “It is very helpful to get patients to enroll in your portal when they’re still in the office. So these are practices where the front desk person might pivot her laptop to work with a patient to register them on the spot. Or to have some kind of tablet type device circulating around the waiting room so patients with assistance could enroll in the portal.”

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