Communication Technology Access, Use, and Preferences among Primary Care Patients: From the Residency Research Network of Texas (RRNeT)

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Abstract

Objective

The digital revolution is changing the manner in which patients communicate with their health care providers, yet many patients still lack access to communication technology. We conducted this study to evaluate access to, use of, and preferences for using communication technology among a predominantly low-income patient population. We determined whether access, use, and preferences were associated with type of health insurance, sex, age, and ethnicity.

Methods

In 2011, medical student researchers administered questionnaires to patients of randomly selected physicians within 9 primary care clinics in the Residency Research Network of Texas. Surveys addressed access to and use of cell phones and home computers and preferences for communicating with health care providers.

Results

In this sample of 533 patients (77% response rate), 448 (84%) owned a cell phone and 325 (62%) owned computers. Only 48% reported conducting Internet searches, sending and receiving E-mails, and looking up health information on the Internet. Older individuals, those in government sponsored insurance programs, and individuals from racial/ethnic minority groups had the lowest levels of technology adoption. In addition, more than 60% of patients preferred not to send and receive health information over the Internet, by instant messaging, or by text messaging.

Conclusions

Many patients in this sample did not seek health information electronically nor did they want to communicate electronically with their physicians. This finding raises concerns about the vision of the patient-centered medical home to enhance the doctor-patient relationship through communication technology. Our patients represent some of the more vulnerable populations in the United States and, as such, deserve attention from health care policymakers who are promoting widespread use of communication technology.

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