A study in the United States indicates that barriers to internet use may be preventing chronically ill middle-aged and older women from accessing online resources for self-care.
While the study revealed that internet use for self-care varied depending on factors including age, the specific condition or conditions a patient had, education level and ethnic background, it showed the potential for improved condition management by getting online resources into the hands of more patients.
"We want people to be able to optimize their health," said Carolyn Mendez-Luck, an assistant professor in the School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences at Oregon State University (OSU) who worked with her colleagues at the University of Georgia on the project and published their findings in the Journal of Women's Health.
Of the study's participants, a total of 418 women age 44 and older with at least one chronic condition, 35 percent didn't use the internet at all. Among those who did, fewer than half used it to learn from the experiences of other chronic-disease patients; fewer than 20 percent took part in online discussions regarding their conditions.
"It really seemed to be the lower-resourced individuals who weren't using the internet and thus online resources," Mendez-Luck was quoted as saying in a news release. "If you're older, if you're a member of a minority group, if you're less educated, if you're not working, all of those things work against you and impede your use of the internet; that's what this research suggests."
Self-care, including the use of online resources, is an important component in managing chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, high blood pressure, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, depression and anxiety. Effective management of these conditions delays or prevents them from becoming debilitating, maintaining quality of life for the patient and saving health care dollars.
About 31 percent of the women in the study were 65 and older; 30 percent had three or more chronic conditions.
"A significantly larger proportion of older women reported multiple chronic conditions, and a significantly smaller proportion of older women reported using the internet or relying on it for help or support," Mendez-Luck said. "A significantly larger proportion of non-internet users reported needing help learning what to do to manage their health conditions and needing help learning how to care for their health conditions."
Older women represent the chronic-conditions group with the most potential for gains in using online resources for disease self-management. "There's an opportunity for sure," Mendez-Luck said, noting that one method for improvement might be as simple as a physician, nurse or dietitian taking a moment to talk to patients about using the internet and how it can benefit them.