August 6, 2007

Poor and Elderly E-patients

The current issue of the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved features an article based on our August 2006 survey. Unfortunately, the full text of the article, “The Telehealth Divide,” by Mary Schmeida and Ramona McNeal is behind a subscription wall and press coverage may miss the subtleties of their findings. I was given a courtesy copy of the article and wanted to share a few details.

I love it when regression analysis uncovers a basic truth: “The Internet appears to be a double-edged sword, assisting in the search for health care information for the poor and elderly while magnifying existing gaps based on other factors.” Essentially, after all the statistical analysis is said and done, the researchers find that once online “individuals who are elderly or less affluent are more likely than their counterparts to take part in online searches for Medicare and Medicaid information.” I bolded the phrase “once online” because it is the key to understanding the implications of the data and this latest analysis. Americans age 65+ and those living in households with less than $30,000 in annual income are still disproportionately offline.

I applaud the authors’ work on this data set and recommend the article to anyone interested in understanding internet access disparities.