Age, Race/Ethnicity, Education Affected Digital Literacy

Patients with low or limited digital literacy may be increasingly excluded from care as more cancer centers engage with patients through electronic and mobile applications, a new study indicates.

“eHealth literacy has been defined as the ability to seek, find, understand, and appraise health information from electronic sources and apply the knowledge gained to addressing or solving a health problem,” study authors explained.

This cross-sectional survey study assessed differences in how a diverse group of patients accessed and used digital technology in their daily lives and in relation to their cancer care. The study included 363 participants, 71% of whom were non-Hispanic White. About one-third (29%) of patients reported the highest level of education was a high school diploma. Fewer than half of participants (42%) were younger than age 60.

The majority of patients had access to the internet (90%) and reported using it predominantly at home (86%). They accessed the internet using computers (70%), cell phones (54%), and tablets (35%).

In addition, the majority of participants reported owning a smartphone (82%). These smartphones were used primarily for communication (95%), accessing the internet (71%) and navigating to places (60%).

More than half (67%) of patients said they would feel comfortable communicating with their doctor or nurse using a smartphone or tablet. About half of patients (45%) said they used their cancer center’s patient portal often, but one third (31%) reported not using it.

Older participants were less likely to have access to the internet, own a smartphone, download an app by themselves, or have an interest in communication electronically with providers. Those participants with only a high school education were less likely to access the internet, visit a website for health purposes, be able to download an app by themselves, have an interest in communicating electronically with their provider, or have any wearable technology.

Participants from minority races and ethnicities were also significantly less likely to have routine access to the internet or use a patient portal.

“Cancer centers must be cognizant of these disparities when using technology with patients, to not widen cancer health disparities,” the researchers concluded.