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J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2017 Sep 1;72(5):856-863. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbw100.

Has the Digital Health Divide Widened? Trends of Health-Related Internet Use Among Older Adults From 2003 to 2011.

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Department of Health Promotion and Community Health Sciences, School of Public Health, Texas A&M University, College Station.
Center for Applied Health Research, Baylor Scott and White Health, Temple, Texas.



To examine the trend of health-related Internet use (HRIU) among older adults.


We analyzed data from the 2003, 2005, and 2011-2012 iterations of the National Cancer Institute (NCI)-sponsored Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS). HRIU was measured by 4 online behaviors: seeking health information, buying medicine, connecting with people with similar health problems, and communicating with doctors.


Internet use and HRIU among older adults increased substantially from 2003 to 2011 with more significant increases in seeking health information and communicating with doctors online. Overall, the digital health divide between different demographic groups has narrowed, especially in terms of gender, racial/ethnic group, rural/urban residence, and various health statuses; however, age, education, and household income remain persistent predictors of the digital divide. Those in the oldest group (75 or older), those with less than a high school education, and those with very low income (<$25,000/year) continuously lagged behind their counterparts in all aspects of HRIU.


Despite an overall increase in HRIU and a narrowed digital divide, significant variations in HRIU in different demographic groups persisted; therefore, we call for more senior-friendly online resources and culturally appropriate interventions to bridge the digital health divide for vulnerable older adults.


Digital divide; Health-related Internet use; Older adults

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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