Poor need ongoing help with online health resources

Simply providing Internet access isn't enough to equalize access to online health information for the urban poor, according to research in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

For the study, the researchers examined the online information-seeking behaviors of 118 people without a high school degree who had no Internet access at home and limited experience with computers. They were provided a computer, broadband Internet access, access to a web portal designed specifically for low-literacy populations, 24-hour tech support and nine classes on basic Internet skills.

The researchers relied on real-time tracking, call logs and reported problems to understand how the individuals' limited computer knowledge affected their search for health information.

During the study period, users averaged two calls on computer issues, most often for viruses or spyware, that lasted a median six days. They also experienced two Internet problems, lasting a median 6.5 days. Some participants' problems persisted for up to 100 days.

Not surprisingly, information-seeking declined with computer and Internet problems. Frequent moves also posed a barrier, especially for those with medical problems. Those with a medical condition who were frustrated tended to curtail their searches for health information, which the researchers theorized could be because they're overwhelmed, while frustration did not deter those without medical conditions. As has been reported previously, the reading level required for online health information often is too high.

Participants' reliance on the provided tech support staff to act as a go-between with the Internet service providers suggests that ongoing IT support will be vital to eHealth projects with this population, the researchers said.

They added that more training may be required on safe browsing habits.

To learn more:
- read the abstract

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