What hinders access to online health information in the US?

The Internet is helping more and more people gain efficient access to health and medical information in the US, but are there discrepancies in accessibility where patients are older, lacking in education or have lower incomes, and can less easily access digital information? A new media and communications research article published in Cogent Social Sciences argues that the Internet cannot serve as substitute for traditional health information sources, and concludes that targeted interventional efforts are needed for Americans with limited online skills or reduced Internet access.

Previous research has established that many people in the US still prefer to consult doctors, health professionals and traditional media (such as books or brochures) as reliable sources of health information, though few studies to date have indicated reasons for and predictors of these preferences. Authors from California State University set out to evaluate data over a four-year period, investigating demographic patterns and individual factors (such as family history, health or socioeconomic status), to see if certain aspects can influence how people select sources of health information.

This study’s findings indicated that younger people, as well as those with better developed Internet skills and higher levels of education, will be likelier to search for health information on the Internet. Older people, Hispanic people and those less educated were less likely to access the Internet for health information. The authors also warn of widening age and socioeconomic discrepancies where people are using the Internet to learn about health issues. With the US health sector’s dependence on storing and disseminating information online, this comes with implications for those with poorer Internet skills or digital access, including the elderly.

Valuable to health professionals and policy-makers, this research suggests that effective digital information services need to be targeting groups with limited Internet access better, or else develop more targeted health information services for this purpose.

This article, published in Cogent Social Sciences, is available to download and share via this permanent link