Elderly With Disabilities Face Barriers to Using Online Portals

May 22, 2014 in News

Elderly U.S. residents with physical disabilities face barriers to accessing their medical records through online portals, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, Reuters reports.

For the study, researchers from the University of California-San Francisco reviewed responses from a national survey of about 19,000 U.S. residents age 65 and older who did not live in nursing homes.

Study Findings

The study found that the rate of respondents who said they used the Internet in any way doubled between 2002 and 2010, from 21% to 42%.

However, the study noted that the increase in Internet use varied based on health and other characteristics. After adjusting for factors such as education, race, sex and wealth, the researchers found that Internet use substantially increased over that period only for individuals who were at least 75 years old, non-white and considered themselves to be in poor or fair health.

Further, respondents with functional impairments — such as the inability to walk or the loss of a sense — increased their Internet use by 13 percentage points, from 10% in 2002 to 23% in 2010.

Meaningful Use Program Could Leave Some Residents Behind

Lead study author Ryan Greysen said the low Internet use among individuals with physical impairments could indicate that such patients are being left behind as federal incentives aim to increase health care providers’ use of health IT, such as electronic health records.

Under the 2009 economic stimulus package, providers who demonstrate meaningful use of certified EHRs can qualify for Medicaid and Medicare incentive payments. As part of the program, patients must be given access to their health data through online portals.

Greysen said, “What I think has gotten lost in this is yes, we need the electronic medical records to be accessible, but who are the groups that will have difficulty getting to those portals?”


To address the issue, the study authors suggested strategies to increase Internet access for elderly patients with functional impairments. They recommended that:

  • Such individuals use special computer software that reads website text to them or allows them to operate computers using their voice;
  • Older patients be taught how to access their information online; and
  • Caregivers be taught how to access patients’ information through online portals (Seaman, Reuters, 5/21).
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