and Medicine for Seniors
Seniors May Dash Hopes for Broader
Use of Internet for Health Information
Few seniors use internet for health
information, especially the large number with low health literacy
12, 2014 - Providing health information on the internet may not be the
“cure all” that it is hoped to be, at least for senior citizens. A new
study shows few Americans 65 or older use the internet to find health
information and many seniors have low health literacy. Among those with
poor knowledge about health, less than ten percent use the internet to
seek health information. The new concern is that greater reliance on
digital health information will just leave many seniors further behind.
The research report is by Helen
Levy of the University of Michigan in the US, who led the first-ever
study to show that elderly people’s knowledge of health matters,
so-called health literacy, also predicts how and if they use the
findings appear in the
Journal of General Internal Medicine,
published by Springer.
Substantial resources and attention
have been invested recently in health information technology in the US,
for example by providing electronic medical records online. It is
unclear, however, whether elderly patients are willing and able to put
this innovation to full use. Levy’s team therefore sought to establish
if there is a link between people’s levels of health literacy and their
use of the internet to find information.
Data was analyzed from the 2009 and
2010 Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative survey of
more than 20,000 Americans 65 years and older.
Approximately 1,400 of the
participants were queried about how often they used the internet for
whatever purpose and, in particular, how often they searched for health
and medical information. Their health literacy was assessed using the
revised Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine questionnaire. They
also rated how confident they felt about filling out medical forms.
The analysis revealed that the
internet was a port of call to gain health information for 31.9 percent
of the elderly participants who were well versed in health matters,
while only 9.7 percent of those with low health literacy used it.
Elderly Americans with low health
literacy are less likely to use the internet at all. If members of this
group do surf the web, it is generally not to search for medical or
health information. Health literacy was therefore found to be a
significant predictor of what people do once they are online.
The analysis also showed that a
person’s level of health literacy is a more important predictor of
whether he or she will use the internet to get medical or health
information rather than his or her cognitive functioning. Levy therefore
suggests that interventions specifically targeting health literacy among
older adults may help prevent a widening of the “digital divide” as
patients are increasingly expected to obtain medical information online.
“Health information technology,
like any innovation in health care, offers both the promise of
significant benefits and the risk that these benefits will not be shared
equally,” warns Levy. “Low health literacy may attenuate the
effectiveness of web-based interventions to improve the health of
Journal of General Internal Medicine.