Digital divide in access to electronic medical records among older Americans

11/17/2015 feature story

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Helen Levy

Publication Information:

Levy, Helen, Alexander Janke, and Kenneth M. Langa. 2015. "Health Literacy and the Digital Divide among Older Americans." Journal of General Internal Medicine, 30(3): 284-289. PMCID: PMC4351282.

Among the requirements for meaningful use of electronic medical records is that patients must be able to interact online with information from their records. However, many older Americans may be unprepared to do this, particularly those with low levels of health literacy. The study reported here used HRS data to quantify the relationship between health literacy and use of the Internet for obtaining health information among community-dwelling Americans aged 65 and older. Our analysis included measures of regular use of the Internet for any purpose and use of the Internet to obtain health or medical information; health literacy was measured using the Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine–Revised (REALM-R) and self-reported confidence filling out medical forms. We found that only 9.7% of elderly individuals with low health literacy used the Internet to obtain health information, compared with 31.9% of those with adequate health literacy. This gradient persisted after controlling for sociodemographic characteristics, health status, and general cognitive ability. These results suggest that web-based health interventions targeting older adults risk exacerbating the digital divide.

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