Do You Use Patient Portals? Surprising Reasons People Don’t Check Their Health Online Revealed

NEW YORK — Americans seem to have a love/hate relationship with their online healthcare platforms (or portals) that many doctors use to issue lab results and keep track of patient information. Although patient portals offer numerous benefits, such as improved health outcomes and engagement in care, the majority of Americans do not utilize these online platforms or even bother creating an account. However, researchers say low portal usage can’t be solely attributed to patient preferences or lack of internet access.

The research, led by Dr. Naheed Ahmed from NYU Grossman School of Medicine, suggests having health insurance and establishing a relationship with a primary care provider (PCP) play key roles in patient portal adoption.

“Our findings suggest that access to healthcare along with ongoing patient health needs influence usage of patient portal platforms,” notes Dr. Ahmed in a media release.

To explore the factors impacting portal usage, Dr. Ahmed and his team conducted an online survey using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing platform. Participants answered questions about their use of online patient portals, health status, technology access, and health literacy.

Analysis of the survey responses revealed notable differences between patients who used online portals and those who did not. Portal users were more likely to reside in urban areas and have higher levels of education. Non-users cited a lack of awareness and technical issues as reasons for not having an account.

Telehealth for seniors: Older man on a virtual doctor's visit
Having health insurance and establishing a relationship with a primary care provider play key roles in patients opting to use an online portal, researchers say. (© fizkes –

The study also found that having health insurance and ongoing health needs were significant factors influencing portal adoption. Patients with a primary care provider were five times more likely to have a patient portal account, while those without insurance were significantly less likely to use the portal. Patients with disabilities or comorbid conditions were more inclined to have an account, potentially due to their frequent medical appointments and desire to stay connected with their healthcare team.

Moreover, patient portal users exhibited higher self-efficacy in managing health issues and held positive attitudes toward media and technology. Surprisingly, non-users demonstrated higher health literacy scores.

The findings underscore the importance of health insurance coverage and ongoing health needs as determinants of patient portal usage. Establishing a relationship with a primary care provider can facilitate patient adoption of portals, enabling them to remain engaged and connected with their healthcare team. Patient portals offer a convenient means of communication, empowering individuals to actively manage their health and participate in their care journey.

By addressing barriers to portal usage and promoting awareness among patients, healthcare providers can foster greater engagement and leverage the potential benefits of patient portal platforms. Improved access to online healthcare resources has the potential to transform healthcare delivery and enhance patient outcomes.

The study is published in the journal Medical Care.

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  1. I don’t do it because it is too cumbersome. I’ve lived for 74 years without accessing my records online so I think I’m okay. And..every provider has their own so you end up having 3 or 4 different sites to go to.
    Prescription refills online are easy, however.

    1. Plus you have to have a code sent to you that is sent all over the world except to your e-mail address or your phone. Try returning to the log in after finding the 10 minute old code. Yhea, good luck.

    2. I’ve used patient portals for years, and find them helpful to me in keeping track of my health. But… like John says, each provider/hospital has their own version of a patient portal “so you end up having 3 or 4 different sites…”
      The upside is that more & more medical facilities are consolidating under one central medical facility so that I can use one portal for most.
      There is some electronic discomfort as each medical facility completes its merge, but for the most part, it works pretty well once most of my providers are on the system.
      The one thing I DO NOT LIKE OR APPRECIATE is the billing departments using the patient portal to post my invoices WITHOUT any email, text message or tweet that I have an open invoice.
      By the time I get a paper copy my invoice is into the 2nd month of the 6-month billing cycle before it goes to Collection. Not acceptable!
      I use my patient portals a lot, but not every day. And even in the patient portal, billing doesn’t list the invoice in the messages; it’s in its financial section.
      That needs to change.

      1. Good comment and valid complaints. When you actually have to use health care, usually when you get older, you realize what a messed up system it is, and how needlessly complicated it is. I think the incentives would work better if it was a Universal health care system where there was one central data record for each person – same with billing.

        Have you ever tried asking a doctor how much anything is, or whether your insurance pays for that. There is so much effort and friction in the health care industry it is a wonder it even works at all.

    3. Too cumbersome? Just to let you know you can set up your browser and email so that when you get a notification you just click on it and your browser links comes up and automatically logs you in. For me anyway, it takes maybe 5-10 seconds.

      I find that the patient portals get more useful, slowly as the years go by.

  2. The Patient Portal works ONLY when someone reads your message. I’ve had to wait up to 8 days for a response to a condition that required a prescription that should have been prescribed 7 days prior! Additionally, the office nurse can respond to a question/comment that was meant for the doctor. The comment doesn’t always include the words, “Dr. XXXX said….” It’s only the nurse’s comment, leaving me to wonder if the doctor ever even saw it. Also, no telephone contact is provided. I’m limited to the horrid Patient Portal and pray that someone opens my message and answers.

  3. I have five different health portals I have to deal with. Spent 40+ years fielding and using automated systems for the Army. Portals need to be easy to use. They are for the most part not. In this day and age if you want to contact someone send an email/text/phone. Not a notification that requires a painful to log in and then is not connected to the message by the link sent. So you have zero idea which Dr sent the message. Some facilities use the same software but in their use they are totally different. Quality control is non existent. The pre check in modes they started for COVID have turned into the lets throw 20 hours of BS at them that has nothing to do with the visit because they don’t value their patients time.

  4. Patient portal access is a time consuming pain in the butt. Huge shareholder accounts at major investment firms such as Vanguard are far easier to use and with much more money at stake. Patients need new, different, and far better medical portal companies.

    Grttinh in

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