Patients with limited health literacy less likely to use an Internet portal for diabetes and other health information

Research Activities, April 2011, No. 368

Patients with any difficulties in self-reported health literacy are less likely to use a patient-oriented Internet portal, even if they have regular access to the Internet, a new study found. The researchers examined Kaiser members' use of the Kaiser Permanente of Northern California's (KPNC's) Internet patient portal (KP.org), which includes a public Web site with information on health promotion and obtaining health insurance. Kaiser members who register for KP.org can also access their laboratory test results, communicate with their physicians by secure E-mail, refill medications, and make medical appointments.

The researchers studied the use of KP.org among an ethnically diverse sample of 14,102 persons enrolled in the Diabetes Study of Northern California, who were also members of the KPNC Diabetes Registry for all of 2006. After adjustment for other factors such as income and education, the researchers found that diabetes patients with limited health literacy were 70 percent more likely never to sign on to the portal than patients without literacy problems. Even among patients with Internet access, those with limited health literacy were 40 percent less likely to ever use the portal during the study.

Patients answered a three-question survey on health literacy in which they were asked to rate from 1 (high/often) to 5 (none/never): difficulty with reading information about their condition; discomfort filling out medical forms; and how often they need to ask someone to help them understand written health information from KPNC.

The researchers concluded that, for maximum use of patient-oriented Internet portals, designers need to involve patients with health literacy problems when designing the portal and its applications. The study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS17594 and HS17261).

More details are in "The Literacy Divide: Health literacy and the use of an Internet-based patient portal in an integrated health system—Results from the Diabetes Study of Northern California (DISTANCE)" by Urmimala Sarkar, M.D., Andrew J. Karter, Ph.D., Jennifer Y. Liu, M.P.H., and others in the Journal of Health Communication 15(Suppl. 2), pp. 183-196, 2010.

Current as of April 2011
Internet Citation: Patients with limited health literacy less likely to use an Internet portal for diabetes and other health information: Research Activities, April 2011, No. 368. April 2011. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/apr11/0411RA22.html