Despite fears that the elderly and poor might be missing out on health information on the Internet, a new study shows that those most in need are bridging the telehealth gap.

In fact, older and poor Americans are likely to use the Internet to seek out Medicare and Medicaid information, according to researchers Mary Schmeida. Ph.D., and Ramona McNeal, Ph.D.

The study appears in the August issue of the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.

Schmeida and McNeal's findings are in contrast to earlier studies that warned of a growing digital divide between wealthy, Web-savvy citizens and those with lower incomes and less Internet access.

"Some disparities are narrowing as the elderly and poor in need of access to public health insurance are searching for it online," Schmeida said.

The researchers caution, however, that those without any Internet access are still cut off from critical information about Medicaid and Medicare.

In a study of state health Web sites published in the same journal last year, Edward Miller of Brown University and colleagues found that many citizens are still unable to get the information they need from such sites.

Miller said that for elderly users of health Web sites, "disability access, especially things like [too-small] font size, may be the most pertinent concern."

The study by Schmeida and McNeal included information from 2,928 adult American surveyed last year for the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Online searches for Medicaid and Medicare information were unrelated to a person's race, income or sex, the researchers found. Rural Americans were also avid Web surfers for health information, despite living in places with less broadband access.

The surprising amount of Web use by these underserved populations is "a fact that may arise from their greater need for service," Schmeida said.

Schmeida M, McNeal R. The telehealth divide: disparities in searching public health information online. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved 18(3), 2007.

Health Behavior News Service
Center for the Advancement of Health 2000 Florida Ave. NW, Ste 210
Washington, DC 20009
United States

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