Older Women With Chronic Conditions Rely on Internet-Based Health Information

April 10, 2020
Samara Rosenfeld

The findings can inform the development of health messaging tailored to older women with chronic conditions.

Mina Sedrak, MS, MD

Nearly 60% of older women who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative reported using the internet to obtain health information, according to the findings of a recent study.

The findings could inform the development of health messaging tailored to older women with chronic conditions.

Mina Sedrak, MS, MD, and a team of investigators included older women who were enrolled in the nation Women’s Health Initiative study to learn online health information-seeking behavior among older patients with chronic illnesses. The team also compared the characteristics of patient who reported using the internet for health information with those who did not.

Sedrak, from City of Hope Medical Center, and colleagues included 72,806 postmenopausal women >65 years old. Participants were asked about their use of mobile phones, other mobile devices, and computers to access the internet. They were also asked whether they used the internet to search for health information. Each participant self-reported age, race or ethnicity, annual household income, smoking status, and medical conditions at baseline.

More than half of the participants (59%) reported using the internet to obtain health information. Those who used the internet were younger than those who did not use it (median age, 76 vs 81 years old) and were more likely to be non-Hispanic white (90% vs 87%). Internet users also earned a higher income (>$50,000: 55% vs 33%); achieved a higher educational level (more than high school: 87% vs 75%); and were more likely to be non-smokers (94% vs 91%).

What’s more, internet users were more likely to use other technology, including mobile phone, (93% vs 76%); computers (96% vs 47%); text messaging (47% vs 22%); email (94% vs 41%); and smartphones (46% vs 15%) (all P <.001).

Among the women, those with a history of many specific health conditions were less likely to report online health information-seeking. Compared to those without a disease, patients with 1 were less likely to use the internet for health information if they had a diagnosis of Alzheimer disease (OR, .41; 95% CI, .38-.43); stroke (OR, .62; 95% CI, .58-.68); colon cancer (OR, .79; 95% CI, .69-.89); cardiovascular disease (OR, .8; 95% CI, .75-.84); myocardial infarction (OR, .81; 95% CI, .75-.88); diabetes (OR, .83; 95% CI; .8-.87); and depression (OR, .91; 95% CI, .86-.96).

There weren’t differences in online health information-seeking for patients with osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and breast cancer.

The findings highlighted that a large proportion of older adults used the internet for health information. Additionally, disparities in online health information-seeking existed among patients of lower socioeconomic status or ethnic minorities.

Having a better understanding of the use of digital health technologies among older adults with chronic illnesses and whether they get health information on the internet could lead to the design of more effective and widespread digital health interventions, the investigators concluded.

The study, “Online Health Information-Seeking Among Older Women With Chronic Illness: Analysis of the Women’s Health Initiative,” was published online in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.


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