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(HealthDay News) — Older Americans are increasingly likely to log into patient portals to access their healthcare information — but confidence levels vary, according to the results of the latest University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging.

About 78% of people aged 50 to 80 years now use at least one patient portal. Five years ago, just 51% in this age range used patient portals, the researchers said. The poll also revealed that 55% of those who used patient portals had done so in the past month. About 49% had accounts on more than one portal.

This surge is partly due to the increase in use of telehealth visits, said Denise Anthony, PhD, the University of Michigan School of Public Health professor who worked on the poll. “This change makes access to secure portals even more important for older adults who want to see their doctors and other healthcare providers virtually. It also makes the disparities we found in our poll even more troubling,” she added in a Michigan Medicine news release.

Older adults with annual household incomes less than $60,000 and those who were Black or Hispanic had lower rates of portal use. These groups were also less likely to say they are comfortable using a portal. People in fair or poor health physically or mentally were also much more likely to say they are not confident about their ability to log in and navigate a portal, according to the researchers.

With many portals, it is possible to also help manage a loved one’s care. About 49% of portal users have done so, according to the poll, up from 43% in 2018. About 40% of all portal users have given access to a spouse or partner, with nearly half of men doing so compared with about one-third of women.

Many older adults still prefer phone calls for scheduling appointments or asking a medical question, though they do prefer the portal to the phone for getting test results and requesting refills of their prescriptions, the poll showed. About 27% of the poll respondents who have used a patient portal in the last year expressed an interest in more training.

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