Levy in U.S. News on health care digital divide for older Americans

December 3, 2014

Helen Levy discusses the “digital divide when it comes to health care” for older Americans in Robert Preidt’s “Too Few Seniors Check Their Medical Records Online,” a Health Day News story that was published by U.S. News & World Report on November 28. “Older adults with low health literacy especially represent a vulnerable population that’s at high risk of being left behind by the advance of technology,” Levy argues.

The article focuses on the Health and Retirement Study, a survey conducted by Levy and colleagues and reported in “Health Literacy and the Digital Divide Among Older Americans,” published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.  In the study, Levy learned that “less than a third of adults aged 65 and older use the Internet for health information, and barely 10 percent of those with a low level of health literacy – the ability to navigate the health system – go online for health-related matters.”

Levy suggests the “digital divide” may be due to a lack of training: “In recent years, we have invested many resources in Web-based interventions to help improve people’s health, such as electronic health records designed to help patients become more active participants in their care. But many older Americans, especially those with low health literacy, may not be prepared for these new tools.”

Helen Levy is a research associate professor at the Ford School as well as at Institute for Social Research and the Department of Health Policy in the School of Public Health. She is a co-investigator on the Health and Retirement Study, a long-running longitudinal study of health and economic dynamics at older ages. Her research interests include the causes and consequences of lacking health insurance, evaluation of public health insurance programs, and the role of health literacy in explaining disparities in health outcomes.