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Use of e-Health services between 1999 and 2002: a growing digital divide

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the patterns of e-Health use over a four-year period and the characteristics of users. DESIGN: Longitudinal, population-based study (1999-2002) of members of a prepaid integrated delivery system. Available e-Health services included ordering prescription drug refills, scheduling appointments, and asking medical questions. MEASUREMENTS: Rates of known access to e-Health services, and of e-Health use each quarter. RESULTS: The number of members with known e-Health access increased from 51,336 (1.6%) in 1999 to 324,522 (9.3%), in 2002. The percentage of households in which at least one person in the household had access increased from 2.7% to 14.1%. Among the subjects with known access, the percentage of subjects that used e-Health at least once increased from 25.7% in 1999 to 36.2% in 2002. In the multivariate analysis, subjects who had a low expected clinical need, were nonwhite, or lived in low socioeconomic status (SES) neighborhoods were less likely to have used e-Health services in 2002. Disparities by race/ethnicity and SES persisted after controlling for access to e-Health and widened over time. CONCLUSION: Access to and use of e-Health services are growing rapidly. Use of these services appears to be greatest among persons with more medical need. The majority of subjects, however, do not use any e-Health services. More research is needed to determine potential reasons for disparities in e-Health use by race/ethnicity and SES as well as the implications of these disparities on clinical outcomes.

Authors: Hsu J; Huang J; Kinsman J; Fireman B; Miller R; Selby J; Ortiz E

J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2005 Mar-Apr;12(2):164-71. Epub 2004 Nov 23.

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