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Differences in Accessing Online Health Resources by Race and Ethnicity

Thu Apr 27 2017
Written by: Jamie M. Lewis, Education and Social Stratification Branch
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Many of us recognize the digital divide between people who do and do not have access to computers and the internet. Did you know that there are also differences in how Americans use the internet? We can identify some of these differences using data from the 2015 Current Population Survey Computer and Internet Use Supplement.

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An important use of the Internet involves activities like researching health information online, communicating with a doctor or accessing health records online and using an internet-connected health monitoring service (one example is devices that monitor blood pressure). In fact, there are differences in the use of these resources by race and ethnicity. The non-Hispanic black population and the Hispanic population are less likely than the non-Hispanic white population to use the internet for any of these health-related activities. For example, 40 percent of the black population and 39 percent of the Hispanic population research health information online, compared with 51 percent of the non-Hispanic white population. For context, 76 percent of those aged 15 or older use the Internet. Although non-Hispanic Asian people research health information online less often than non-Hispanic white people, they are more likely to use other online health resources. The non-Hispanic other races population, including those who identify with multiple races, has lower levels of researching health information online and going online to communicate with a doctor or check health records than non-Hispanic white people. However, these groups do not differ in use of an internet-connected monitoring device.

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Of course, we would expect that use of online health resources relates to whether and how one can access the internet. Although those without private access use these resources at lower levels, some do use these resources, likely by connecting to the internet at work or in a public place. Those who are more connected to the internet, with both a home connection and a data plan, are more likely to use online health resources. For example, 56 percent of those with both types research health information online, compared with 29 percent of those with no private access, 47 percent with home-only access and 41 percent with smartphone-only access. Those with smartphone-only access look similar to those with home-only access regarding use of an internet-connected monitoring service. However, those connected via a smartphone alone are less likely to research health information online or use the internet to contact a doctor or view health records.

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You may be wondering whether there really are racial and ethnic discrepancies in use of online health resources or if it is simply a result of the differences in Internet access or other factors. We can answer this question using a regression analysis, which allows us to look at the impact of both race and ethnicity and internet access, as well as factors like gender, age, educational attainment, income and whether one lives in a metropolitan area. We find that race matters for use of online health resources, even when considering these other factors. People who are black, Asian and Hispanic are less likely than non-Hispanic white people to research health information online. Black people are also less likely than non-Hispanic white people to go online to communicate with a doctor or check health records. Thus, while internet access has a big impact on use of online health resources, access alone does not provide a complete explanation of differences between racial and ethnic groups.

View my Internet Access and Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Using Internet Health Resources and please join us at the 2017 Population Association of America conference. You can also check out the technical documentation on the 2015 Current Population Survey Computer and Internet Use Supplement.

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