Digital technology use among disadvantaged Australians: Implications for equitable consumer participation in digitally-mediated communication and information exchange with health services

Lareen Newman, Katherine Biedrzycki, Frances Baum

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    37 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Objective. To present research findings on access to, and use of, digital information and communication technologies (ICTs) by Australians from lower income and disadvantaged backgrounds to determine implications for equitable consumer access to digitally-mediated health services and information. Methods. Focus groups were held in 2008-09 with 80 residents from lower income and disadvantaged backgrounds in South Australia, predominantly of working- and family-formation age (25 to 55 years). Qualitative analysis was conducted on a-priori and emergent themes to describe dominant categories. Results. Access to, and use of, computers, the Internet and mobile phones varied considerably in extent, frequency and quality within and across groups due to differences in abilities, resources and life experience. Barriers and facilitators included English literacy (including for native speakers), technological literacy, education, income, housing situation, social connection, health status, employment status, and trust. Many people gained ICT skills by trial and error or help from friends, and only a few from formal programs, resulting in varied skills. Conclusion. The considerable variation in ICT access and use within lower income and disadvantaged groups must be acknowledged and accommodated by health initiatives and services when delivering digitally-mediated consumer-provider interaction, online health information, or online self-management of health conditions. If services require consumers to participate in a digitally-mediated communication exchange, then we suggest they might support skills and technology acquisition, or provide non-ICT alternatives, in order to avoid exacerbating health inequities. 1. What is known about the topic? Government and health provider use of digitally-mediated information and communication is rapidly increasing. However, national data show that ICT access is distributed unevenly across Australia's population. Furthermore, this distribution mirrors the health gradient. There is little qualitative data on the extent to which, and ways in which, ICTs are used within lower income and disadvantaged groups - those with greater health need. 2. What does this paper add? This paper augments the scant literature to describe ICT access and use in a range of lower income and disadvantaged groups. It indicates barriers and facilitators, and highlights the need for formal supports to level up the whole population to have the skills, confidence and resources to use and benefit from ICT-mediated communication. 3. What are the implications for practitioners? As health services and governments increase the level of digitally-mediated information and communication connection with consumers/patients, it is important to understand and find ways to address differential consumer access to and use of ICTs, so that equity of access to services and information is promoted. This is particularly important as lower income and disadvantaged groups are likely to have both poorer health and lower ICT use.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)125-129
    Number of pages5
    JournalAustralian Health Review
    Volume36
    Issue number2
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2012

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