WASHINGTON--As the Internet becomes an increasingly important resource for informing decisions about health and health care options, a new national survey of older Americans by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that less than a third (31%) of seniors (age 65 and older) have ever gone online, but that more than two-thirds (70%) of the next generation of seniors (50-64 year-olds) have done so.
The differences among seniors and 50-64 year-olds are striking and indicate that online resources for health information may soon play a much larger role among older Americans.
Twenty-one percent of seniors have gone online to look for health information compared to 53% of 50-64 year-olds; 8% of seniors get "a lot" of health information online compared to 24% of 50-64 year-olds; the Internet is 5th on a list of media sources of health information for seniors compared to first among 50-64 year-olds; and 26% of seniors trust the Internet "a lot" or "some" to provide accurate health information, compared to 58% of 50-64 year-olds.
The survey also finds that a significant digital divide could leave those most in need with less information on which to base important health care decisions. Seniors whose annual household income is under $20,000 a year are much less likely to have gone online (15%) than those with incomes between $20,000-49,000 (40%) or those with incomes of $50,000 a year or more (65%).
Most seniors (64%) on Medicare fall into that lowest income category of under $20,000 a year, while just 8% have an income of $50,000 or more. Furthermore, seniors with only a high school degree or less are much less likely to have gone online than those with some college or a college degree (18% v. 45% v. 60%).
"We know that the Internet can be a great health tool for seniors, but the majority are lower-income, less well educated and not online," said Drew Altman, President and CEO, Kaiser Family Foundation. "It's time for a national discussion on how to get seniors online."
With the passage of Medicare reform that allows recipients to choose prescription drug discount cards, the federal Web site Medicare.gov has become an important resource for comparing the benefits of competing cards. The survey, conducted in March-April 2004, found that 2% of all seniors had gone online to Medicare.gov (further tracking surveys by the Foundation indicate that number has remained relatively stable, at 4% in June, 8% in October, and 3% in December 2004).
The survey -- e-health and the Elderly: How Seniors Use the Internet for Health -- is being released at a briefing today in Washington, D.C. that includes representatives of AOL, the National Institute on Aging, the AARP, and SeniorNet, an organization that helps train older Americans in computer skills.
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