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Understanding the digital divide in the clinical setting: the technology knowledge gap experienced by US safety net patients during teleretinal screening.

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Center for Biomedical Informatics, Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science, Los Angeles.


Differential access to everyday technology and healthcare amongst safety net patients is associated with low technological and health literacies, respectively. These low rates of literacy produce a complex patient "knowledge gap" that influences the effectiveness of telehealth technologies. To understand this "knowledge gap", six focus groups (2 African-American and 4 Latino) were conducted with patients who received teleretinal screenings in U.S. urban safety-net settings. Findings indicate that patients' "knowledge gap" is primarily produced at three points: (1) when patients' preexisting personal barriers to care became exacerbated in the clinical setting; (2) through encounters with technology during screening; and (3) in doctor-patient follow-up. This "knowledge gap" can produce confusion and fear, potentially affecting patients' confidence in quality of care and limiting their disease management ability. In rethinking the digital divide to include the consequences of this knowledge gap faced by patients in the clinical setting, we suggest that patient education focus on both their disease and specific telehealth technologies deployed in care delivery.

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