General Health Statuses as Indicators of Digital Inequality and the Moderating Effects of Age and Education: Cross-sectional Study

Alexander J.A.M. Van Deursen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Abstract

Background: Considerable effort has been directed to offering online health information and services aimed at the general population. Such efforts potentially support people to obtain improved health outcomes. However, when health information and services are moved online, issues of equality need to be considered. In this study, we focus on the general population and take as a point of departure how health statuses (physical functioning, social functioning, mental health, perceived health, and physical pain) are linked to internet access (spanning internet attitude, material access, internet skills, and health-related internet use). Objective: This study aims to reveal to what extent (1) internet access is important for online health outcomes, (2) different health statuses are important for obtaining internet access and outcomes, and (3) age and education moderate the contribution of health statuses to internet access. Methods: A sequence of 2 online surveys drawing upon a sample collected in the Netherlands was used, and a data set with 1730 respondents over the age of 18 years was obtained. Results: Internet attitude contributes positively to material access, internet skills, and health outcomes and negatively to health-related internet use. Material access contributes positively to internet skills and health-related internet use and outcomes. Internet skills contribute positively to health-related internet use and outcomes. Physical functioning contributes positively to internet attitude, material access, and internet skills but negatively to internet health use. Social functioning contributes negatively to internet attitude and positively to internet skills and internet health use. Mental health contributes positively to internet attitude and negatively to material access and internet health use. Perceived health positively contributes to material access, internet skills, and internet health use. Physical pain contributes positively to internet attitude and material access and indirectly to internet skills and internet health use. Finally, most contributions are moderated by age (<65 and ≥65 years) and education (low and high). Conclusions: To make online health care attainable for the general population, interventions should focus simultaneously on internet attitude, material access, internet skills, and internet health use. However, issues of equality need to be considered. In this respect, digital inequality research benefits from considering health as a predictor of all 4 access stages. Furthermore, studies should go beyond single self-reported measures of health. Physical functioning, social functioning, mental health, perceived health, and physical pain all show unique contributions to the different internet access stages. Further complicating this issue, online health-related interventions for people with different health statuses should also consider age and the educational level of attainment.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere37845
JournalJournal of medical internet research
Volume24
Issue number10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2022

Keywords

  • age
  • attitude
  • digital divide
  • digital health
  • digital inequality
  • education
  • eHealth
  • health
  • health outcome
  • internet access
  • internet skill
  • MOS
  • online health
  • patient outcome
  • survey
  • technology skill

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