Our population is aging rapidly. In fact, those in the 50+ age range are in one of the fastest growing demographics in the United States. This brings certain challenges to doctors across the country, one of those being getting patients to engage in their own care by using tools like personal health records and patient portals.
For stage 2 meaningful use, doctors must report that at least 5 percent of their patients viewed and downloaded their health records. Understandably, this requirement has been very unpopular among doctors. Those who deal primarily with patients over the age of 50 are particularly concerned about whether these patients will particiapte to meet the 5 percent threshold requirement.
However, things aren’t as grim as they may seem. Recent studies have shown that older patients actually are interested in accessing their records online. One study concluded that age, income, and education had nothing to do with whether a person was willing to access their record electronically. Rather, it was those with the highest health literacy—the chronically ill and the very healthy—who were most interested in this capability.
Over 20,000 AARP members took part in AARP’s “Life @ 50+” conference, and many of the participants talked about their level of health IT expertise, which was higher than most would expect. Many spoke of the convenience of electronic prescribing and how much they enjoyed having convenient access to their health records. There were still many who were not interested in accessing their electronic health records (EHRs) because they “don’t use computers,” but a surprising number were optimistic about how health IT tools help them manage their care.
There are a few things practices can do to make health IT less intimidating and easy to use for older patients. If you have kiosks in your waiting area, make them as senior-friendly as possible. Adjust the screen resolution if needed, and tape up a paper list of instruction next to each station.
Most importantly, if you’ve already adopted a patient portal, make sure your patients know about it. Consider putting up signs throughout the practice describing the benefits of using the patient portal, creating a phone recording that will play when patients are on hold, or having the office staff explain what the patient portal is while checking patients in or out.
Change may happen slowly, but eventually your patients—even the older ones—will start to feel comfortable using tools that will make them more knowledgeable about their own care.