Americans all across the country are largely signing up for COVID-19 vaccinations online, but new poll data from a University of Michigan study suggests this reliance on technology may leave out one group disproportionately impacted by the pandemic — the elderly.
New poll data from the National Poll on Healthy Aging, led by the University’s Institute for Healthcare and Policy, found that 45% of adults aged 65-80 and 42% of adults aged 50-80 do not use online health portals to facilitate scheduling of appointments.
Dr. Preeti Malani, an infectious disease physician and the chief health officer at Michigan Medicine, initially published and directed the poll in 2018. In June 2020, Malani’s team collected new data through a nationally-administered poll question, carried out online with a nationwide sample of adults aged 50-80.
According to Dr. Malani, the poll data highlights the need to increase access for the elderly to technological health services. Malani suggested physicians remind patients to sign-up for patient portals at physical appointments and guide them through the sign-up process.
“Now (patient portals have) become really essential because with vaccinations, (patient portals) are the best way to get scheduled,” Malani said. “Making (the process) as simple as possible and explaining why it should be done goes a long way.”
Dr. Malani also highlighted the racial disparities in patient portal use. The poll found that 50% of Black older adults and 53% of Hispanic older adults surveyed did not sign up for patient portals as compared to 39% of white older adults.
Patient portal use also differed based on annual household incomes and level of education. 54% of lower-income older adults (those with less than $60,000 a year) did not use patient portals, while only 35% of higher-income older adults did not use the portals. 53% of older adults with less than a high school education lacked portal access, whereas 31% of older adults who graduated college lacked a portal.
“If we know those people aren’t being reached with the portal, we need to work extra hard with equity in terms of vaccine disbursal,” Malani said.
Michigan Medicine has currently opened a limited number of COVID-19 vaccination appointments to patients aged 65 and older and is sending out invitations to schedule vaccination appointments to MyUofMHealth patient portal users.
In an email to The Michigan Daily, Mary Masson, director of public relations at Michigan Medicine, said the hospital is also using other methods to reach out to contact patients who have not yet signed up for patient portals.
“We realize that not all of our patients, especially those 65 and older, are necessarily using the portal,” Masson wrote. “This makes it critically important to reach out to patients beyond health system portals. At Michigan Medicine, we are using traditional mailings, phone calls and email to reach all of our patients. We will continue to use all channels of communication in order to best reach our patients as we continue to move through the phases.”
Masson also said that patients that require assistance in setting up a patient portal can call 734-615-0872 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patients looking for assistance in setting up patient portals can also reach out to Grandson on Call, a company founded by Business freshman Brett Wolff to provide nation-wide technical support to the elderly.
Wolff said Grandson on Call has had clients requesting assistance in setting up patient portals and scheduling vaccination appointments. He mentioned the one hardship in providing this assistance is the unavoidable need for clients to share sensitive information.
“Our goal is to never have technology be a barrier to entry for anything clients want to do,” Wolff said. “If (assistance in setting up patient portals) is a service that people are looking for, then we are more than happy to provide that service.”
In an increasingly digital world, Wolff said people need to understand technology to perform everyday tasks from booking movie tickets to navigating online banking. He said this need has been heightened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting disparities in access to services such as telehealth and scheduling vaccination appointments.
“Technological literacy is a necessity in being able to sign up for patient portals and get on the waiting list for the vaccine,” Wolff said. “It has become a necessity for everyday life and operation, and any opportunity (Grandson on Call) has to help with that is something we strive to improve our clients’ lives with.”
Daily Staff Reporter Navya Gupta can be reached at email@example.com.
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