Racial Disparities in Health Information Access: Resilience of the Digital Divide

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Abstract

Policy initiatives of the late 1990s were believed to have largely eliminated the information “Digital Divide.” For healthcare consumers, access to information is an essential part of the consumer-centric framework outlined in the recently proposed national health information initiative. This study sought to examine how racial/ethnic characteristics are associated with Internet use and online health information. Using a cross-sectional nationwide study of reported Internet use and information search in 2000 and 2002, we studied a stratified sample of computer users from the Pew Internet & American Life Project surveys. Adjusted estimates of race/ethnicity and income effects on Internet use and search behaviors were derived from generalized estimating equations. Results show wide gaps in the use of computers between Hispanics and Whites (OR = 0.593 [0.440, 0.798]) and between African-Americans and Whites (OR = 0.554 [0.427, 0.720]) in 2000 significantly narrowed in 2002 (OR of Hispanic to white = 1.250 [0.874, 1.789]; OR of African-American to Whites = (0.793 [0.551, 1.141]). Gaps in access to the Internet, however, remained consistent between 2000–2002. Differences in health information seeking between Hispanics and Whites existed in both 2000 and 2002. 56% of White Internet users at some time searched for online health information, whereas 42% of Hispanic Internet users did so in 2000. By 2002, these percentages had increased to 13.4 and 15.8%, respectively. Data highlight the persistence of “Digitally Underserved Groups,” despite recent Divide reduction strategies.

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