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COVID-19 pandemic changed demographics of portal use


Gender and age disparities lessened, but effects of health literacy increased

Doctor holding tablet with words Patient Portal ©MQ-Illustrations-stock.adobe.com


Doctor holding patient portal sign ©MQ-Illustrations-stock.adobe.com


Among its other results the COVID-19 pandemic may have changed the sociodemographic makeup of patient portal users and their reasons for using them.

Those findings emerge from a recent study of patient portal use between 2019 and 2022. Its authors analyzed portal use among more than 500 participants drawn from the COVID-19 & Chronic Conditions (C3) study, a longitudinal survey of patients with multiple chronic conditions. Participants in the portal use study were middle aged and older-adult patients at a Chicago academic medical center.

The results showed significant disparities in portal use by age, gender, health literacy, and morbidity. Before the arrival of COVID-19 patients who were female, older, less health literate and had fewer comorbidities had the fewest portal logins. But while gender and age disparities lessened over the course of the pandemic, disparities by multimorbidity stayed about the same and increased among patients with less health literacy.

The latter finding, the authors say, is consistent with other studies showing that the pandemic added to disparities in portal use among patients with low health literacy, possibly due to greater difficulty with technology or various forms of digital health.

They also point out that their finding of a narrowing gap in gender-based portal use during the pandemic is at odds with previous studies showing that women generally use portals more than men. They speculate that may be due to male C3 participants being more proactive about their health than males in other studies or among men generally.

The study further showed that while portal logins increased overall during the pandemic, it was mostly due to more patients reviewing lab and test results as opposed to scheduling, messaging, or viewing other documents.

The authors note that while they focused on disparities in portal use among patients with active portal accounts, “it is important to consider… disparities among individuals who have never used the portal and addressing possible barriers in portal adoption,” such as digital literacy and access to reliable internet or broadband services.

The study, “Disparities in Patient Portal Use Among Adults With Chronic Conditions” was published February 29, 2024 on JAMA Network Open.

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