Assessing Internet access and use in a medically underserved population: implications for providing enhanced health information services

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Abstract

Background:

The relationship between health information seeking, patient engagement and health literacy is not well understood. This is especially true in medically underserved populations, which are often viewed as having limited access to health information.

Objective:

To improve communication between an urban health centre and the community it serves, a team of library and information science researchers undertook an assessment of patients’ level and methods of access to and use of the Internet.

Methods:

Data were collected in 53 face-to-face anonymous interviews with patients at the centre. Interviews were tape-recorded for referential accuracy, and data were analysed to identify patterns of access and use.

Results:

Seventy-two percentage of study participants reported having access to the Internet through either computers or cell phones. Barriers to Internet access were predominantly lack of equipment or training rather than lack of interest. Only 21% of those with Internet access reported using the Internet to look for health information.

Conclusion:

The findings suggest that lack of access to the Internet in itself is not the primary barrier to seeking health information in this population and that the digital divide exists not at the level of information access but rather at the level of information use.

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