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Digital health information disparities in older adults

We summarise a recent article, published in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, that explored access to digital health information among older adults and current disparities.

Digital health information

Digital health over the past two decades has been rapidly growing and evolving. Advances in digital technologies has increased the amount of data being generated, particularly outside of a clinical setting. There is universal optimism about the use of digital endpoints within healthcare to help combat the cost of drug R&D.

Health-related information is continually being packaged and made available digitally. Digital technologies, including electronic tools, systems and devices, can generate, store and process data. The distribution of health information digitally enables it to be interactive and also efficiently deliver important information to a large number of individuals. Engaging patients in their care and in shared decision-making requires well-informed patients. Unfortunately, digital health information is still far from universal. This is particularly the case in older populations and those from economically disadvantaged groups. While several studies have identified this digital divide, very few have qualitatively explored the reasons why these disparities persist.

Mixed method study

In this study, using mixed methods, the team described the extent of computer ownership, internet access and digital health information use in older African Americans, Afro-Caribbeans, Hispanic Americans, and European Americans.

The team observed significant differences in these categories across ethnic groups. Logistic regression identified older age, less education, lower income and minority group membership as significant predictors of limited digital health information use.

Next, the team conducted a series of focus groups which further highlighted differences across ethnic groups. For example, participants in the African American/Afro-Caribbean group expressed frustration with lack of access to digital health information.

Digital health technologies aim to empower patients and make them more informed. However, the current digital divide may in fact marginalise certain groups. It is therefore important to use other modalities, such as printed material and telephone calls, to communicate with those who remain affected by this disparity.

Image credit: By starline –

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