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

Lorence, Daniel P.; Park, Heeyoung; Fox, Susannah
Journal of Medical Systems

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.