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Some older Americans left out as Internet's role grows in health care delivery

Virginia Gordan

There's a digital divide in health care.

Less than one third of Americans over 65 go online to get information about their health, according to a new University of Michigan study.

And barely 10% of older Americans with low health literacy – that is, who have difficulty finding their way around the health system – use the Internet to access health information.

Helen Levy, research associate professor at the U-M Institute for Social Research and lead author, said the digital divide could lead to disparities in health care and health outcomes.

She said more health providers are switching to electronic health records and offering online health portals.  That means patients can look on the Web for test results, medical history, reminders about doctor's visits, and important information about their medications.

"As doctors and the health system increasingly use these technologies as a way of communicating – which is going to be a great way for some people to communicate – for other people it's not going to be a great way to communicate or get information," Levy said.

Levy suggested doctors routinely ask patients whether they use the Internet and offer alternative means of communication. She said continuous efforts to improve the transparency and user-friendliness of health information systems will also be helpful.

– Virginia Gordan, Michigan Radio Newsroom