Race, education, and income impact health information-seeking, confidence in obtaining health information and trust in health information sources.
A recent study in the Journal of Healthcare for the Poor and Underserved, found that while 70 percent of all U.S. adults seek health-related information from the Web, their doctors, television and other sources, factors such as race, ethnicity, education level and economic status can make it harder for some to access such essential information.
The study of 3,243 respondents to the Health Information Network Trends Survey (HINTS), found that minorities, especially those with less education and lower incomes, were less likely than Whites to seek health information and were not as confident about their ability to obtain health information. And, although doctors and other health professionals were rated as the most trustworthy source of information, Hispanics and Blacks were slightly less likely to trust them.
"It is critical that everyone has equal access to and trust in our healthcare system," said Amanda Richardson, Ph.D., lead author of the study. "Unequal access and lack of trust only contributes to existing disparities in health outcomes."
Those with less education, especially with a high school diploma or less, were less confident in their ability to find health information and less likely to trust government health agencies than those with college degrees. People with lower incomes were less likely to trust a doctor or health professional or the Internet as sources of information than those with higher incomes.
"People who are not well informed are going to make worse decisions," said Doug Evans, Ph.D., professor of Prevention and Community Health and of Global Health at the George Washington University School. "They are not going to know how to promote or maintain their own health, how to seek proper screenings or seek care in a way that will keep illness from progressing."
The answer, says Richardson, is better communication. "Outreach efforts from the healthcare community, tailored health messages and improved communication between health care providers and underserved populations will likely improve health information seeking among those who most need it, as well as the confidence and trust they have in our healthcare system," said Richardson.
Further research may be needed to determine the best method of delivery.
"We need to make it easier," said Evans. "For example, many people now have Internet access but for some lower income folks, the primary means may be a mobile device. There is reliable information out there, but the question is how to get it to traditionally medically disadvantaged populations. That's the question we need to ask."
A. Richardson, J. Appleyard Allen, X. Haijun, D. Vallone (2012). Effects of Race/Ethnicity and Socioeconomic Status on Health Information-Seeking, Confidence, and Trust, Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.