According to a study, no more than a third of Americans older than 65 search health related information online. But the situation is bleak in the case of the elderly with low health literacy, just 10 percent of them search medical information online.
Researchers at University of Michigan conducted a study to find out how the elderly access online information regarding their health. The results were published in Journal of General Internal Medicine.
“In recent years we have invested many resources in Web-based interventions to help improve people’s health, such as electronic health records designed to help patients become more active participants in their care. But many older Americans, especially those with low health literacy, may not be prepared for these new tools,” lead author Helen Levy, research associate professor at the U-M Institute for Social Research, said.
Almost 60 percent of people 65 or older reported that they accessed Internet services in 2013, according to the authors. However, the research was based on data from 2009 and 2010 from the Health and Retirement Study, which includes 22,000 individuals from all over the country. Researchers selected 824 individuals in the general population and 1,584 Internet users and reassembled their answers to respond to their own research questions. There might have been a selection bias, according to the authors, because people with a lower health status tended to provided incomplete answers.
Digital divide in health care has been overlooked in previous studies, the authors point out. That’s surprising, because numerous studies on Internet behavior have been conducted so far.
The main finding is that health literacy represents an important predictor of Internet habits in the case of Americans over 65. Close to 32 percent of those with adequate health literacy used the Internet regularly as a source of information on health issues, while 55 percent of them used the Internet for other purposes. In the case of people with low health literacy, 9.7 percent of them went online to check health related info, while 22 percent of them used the system for other purposes.
The figures are particularly important because many health care providers switch to electronic health care records. Until older Americans manage to catch up with the new technology, the authors recommend doctors to offer alternative communication channels to their older patients.