Digital technologies offer opportunities to reach underserved

FDA will regulate certain apps as medical devices
FDA will regulate certain apps as medical devices

HealthDay News -- Caregivers of children receiving care in an urban pediatric primary care setting frequently use digital technologies such the Internet and smartphones, offering new opportunities for clinicians to communicate with typically hard-to-reach patients, study finding suggest.

In a survey of 257 caregivers, 97% reported using at least one of four forms of digital technology -- home Internet,
smartphone, e-mail and social media -- and nearly half reported they used all four, Tori L. DeMartini, MD, from the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, and colleagues reported in Pediatrics.

Notably, the percentage of participants with internet access at home has nearly doubled from 41% in 2003 to 80% in 2012.

"As more caregivers become digitally connected and use those connections to search for medical information, the opportunity to develop innovative strategies to deliver pertinent, reliable, and easily accessible information increases," they wrote.

Previous studies have shown a dramatic increase in Internet and social media usage to search for health-related information in recent years, and although credible resources exist it can be difficult for a caregiver to determine the quality of available content, the researchers noted.

To better understand digital access and usage patterns among low-income patients, and how they prefer to receive online health information from healthcare providers, DeMartini and colleagues surveyed a convenience sample of caregivers at two urban pediatric primary care centers in spring 2012.

The self-administered survey assessed access to home Internet, e-mail, smartphones and social media (Facebook and Twitter), frequency of daily use and interest in receiving medical information digitally.

The researchers found that 80% of respondents had internet access at home and 71% had a smartphone. Additionally, 91% reported using e-mail, 78% used Facebook and 27% used Twitter. Social media use correlated with the number of digital technologies participants had access to, becoming more frequent in participants with access to more forms of technology.

In terms of using technology for health purposes, 15% of caregivers indicated they used the Internet daily to search for general medical information and 58% reported searching at least once in the week prior to their visit to the primary care office.  However, only 6% reported they got hospital-specific information via a hospital website.

Importantly, 71% agreed or strongly agreed that they would use health information supplied digitally if
it was approved by their child's medical provider. Among topics caregivers were most interested in receiving online information about were common infections (77%), vaccination schedules (73%), healthy eating tips (71%), recommended well-child visits and screening tests (65%) and links to community resources (62%).

Most respondents indicated a preference for receiving medical information via a website, text message or Facebook, whereas fewer preferred Twitter.

"Underserved populations can be hard to reach, because families frequently change addresses, and phone numbers are often disconnected or temporarily out of service. Our population's relative hyperconnectivity makes using digital technologies another approach to reaching our families," the researchers wrote.

They called for more research to assess shifting patterns of access to digital technologies in these communities over time and to determine how technologies can be optimized to reduce health disparities.

References

  1. DeMartini TL et al. Pediatrics. 2013;doi: 10.1542/peds.2013-0594.
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