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J Med Internet Res. 2011 Sep 29;13(3):e75. doi: 10.2196/jmir.1697.

Internet use and eHealth literacy of low-income parents whose children have special health care needs.

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University of Florida, Department of Health Outcomes and Policy, Gainesville, FL 32610, USA.



The Internet has revolutionized the way in which many Americans search for health care information. Unfortunately, being able to use the Internet for this purpose is predicated on having access to the Internet and being able to understand and comprehend online health information. This is especially important for parents of children with special health care needs who are forced to make many medical decisions throughout the lives of their children. Yet, no information is available about this vulnerable group.


For parents of children with special health care needs we sought to (1) describe their Internet access and use, (2) determine which child and household factors were associated with Internet use, (3) describe eHealth literacy of Internet users, and (4) determine which child and household factors were associated with greater eHealth literacy.


This was a cross-sectional telephone survey of 2371 parents whose children with special health care needs were enrolled in Florida's Medicaid and State Children's Health Insurance Plan (SCHIP) programs (4072 parents were approached). To be enrolled in the program, families must have incomes that are less than or equal to 200% of the federal poverty level. The eHealth Literacy Scale (eHEALS) was used to measure eHealth literacy. Descriptive and multivariate analyses were conducted to address the study objectives.


The survey response rate was 58.2%. Participating parents were mainly female (2154/2371, 91%), white non-Hispanic (915/2371, 39%), English speaking (1827/2371, 77%), high school graduates (721/2371, 30%), married (1252/2371, 53%), and living in a two-parent household (1212/2371, 51%). Additionally, 82% of parents (1945/2371) in the sample reported that they used the Internet, and 49% of those parents used it daily (1158/2371). Almost three-quarters of Internet users had access to the Internet at home while about one-half had access at work. Parents who were African American, non-English speaking, older, and not college graduates were less likely to use the Internet than their referent groups (P < .001). About 74% of Internet users (1448/1945) reported that they knew how to find health information for their children. However, only about one-half (1030/1945) reported that they can tell high quality from low quality resources online or that they feel confident in using information accessed online to make health decisions. Multivariate regression results consistently showed that being a non-English speaker, having less than a high school education, and being older were all significantly associated with lower eHealth literacy (all P < .001).


Low-income parents of children with special health care needs have access to and use the Internet as a source of information about their children's health. However, some parents are unable to distinguish between high and low quality information and are not confident in using the Internet. This information is timely because as the pressure to use the Internet to empower consumers and exchange information increases, issues related to access and disparities must be better understood.

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