Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries were significantly more likely to say they didn’t want to use a portal because they prefer to speak directly to a provider.

The healthcare industry is flush with digital portals, but apparently there’s still a dearth of patients that want to use them.

A new study from the University of Michigan finds that two-thirds of patients who visited a doctor in 2017 did not use a health portal that could help improve their health in the long run.

Health portals—secure online websites that give patients online access to health information and tools to communicate with doctors, check laboratory results, and renew prescriptions among other tasks—can enhance patients’ engagement in their own health, University of Michigan professor of health management and policy Denise Anthony.

“They ask more questions of doctors, they become more engaged in knowing about and keeping themselves healthy,” she says. “Given these benefits, we wanted to look at who isn’t using a patient portal. To make sure these technologies benefit all people, we first have to find out who is and is not using them.”

For the study, researchers used data from 2017 Health Information National Trends Survey and limited the study to those who had insurance and who had seen a doctor in the past 12 months.

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Of the roughly 2,300 respondents, 63% had not used a portal the previous year. Non-users were more likely to not have been offered access to a portal.

They also tended to be male, 65 or older, on Medicaid, lack a regular provider and have less than a college education. Of those using a portal, 95 percent had been offered access to one. However, 41% of those patients offered access did not use a portal, the study says.

The study also found:

  • Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries were significantly more likely to say they didn’t want to use a portal because they prefer to speak directly to a provider.
  • Patients older than 40, and some racial and ethnic minority groups, were more likely than younger and white patients to report concerns about security and privacy.
  • Hispanics and people older than 50 were less likely to report they had no need to access a portal.

“The study suggests that disparities in portal use appears to be less about access to technology infrastructure and more about skills and comfort using technology,” Anthony says.

“It will require education as well as technological designs that enable patients to communicate with providers in acceptable ways,” she says.

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