'Safety-net' clinic patients want online communication with docs, too

Low-income patients of public health clinics say they would like to communicate with their doctors online, but these "safety-net" facilities don't offer the necessary patient portal or secure messaging to make that happen.

In a survey, researchers from the University of California San Francisco found a significant majority of uninsured and underinsured patients use email, text messaging, and the Internet in their daily lives, and would like to do so with their healthcare, as well.

"Electronic health-related communication is becoming the standard of care in well-resourced settings, and should be implemented and supported in resource-poor settings," senior author Urmimala Sarkar, an assistant professor of medicine with the UCSF Department of Medicine said in an announcement.

The study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, surveyed 416 patients of public health clinics in San Francisco. They were ethnically and racially diverse, low-income and spoke 24 different primary languages. Sixty percent were email users and 17 percent reported informal use of email with healthcare provider. However, 78 percent expressed interest in electronic communication to manage their health.

"Our work makes it clear that lower-income patients from a wide variety of backgrounds want to be part of the health information technology revolution. The question is whether they will be afforded the opportunities to take part in the same way as their middle and higher-income peers," said lead author Adam Schickedanz, a medical resident in the UCSF Department of Pediatrics.

A previous study from the University of Central Florida in Orlando found no link between age, education level or income in patients' willingness to adopt a personal health record.

A report earlier this month from four advocacy organizations--the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, Consumers Union and The National Council of La Raza--said health information technology must not create barriers for underserved populations. It pointed to smartphones as an important alternative to computers for millions of Americans as an ideal medium to reduce the digital divide.

To learn more:
- read the study
- find the announcement


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