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How Access to the Internet May Impact Womens Health

March 25, 2017

Women who lack access to the internet may be missing an opportunity to improve their health, according to one recent study.

In the study, published in the Journal of Women’s Health, University of Georgia and Oregon State University researchers analyzed data from 418 middle-age and older women who had at least one chronic condition. Researchers used the data to assess sociological and demographic characteristics, disease types and health care use associated with access to and use of the Internet.

They found that 35 percent of the women didn’t use the internet, and even those who did use this resource didn’t rely on it to gather more knowledge from other patients with similar chronic diseases. Fewer than half used the internet in this way, and fewer than 20 percent participated in online conversations about their chronic disease(s). Thirty-one percent of women in the study were age 65 and older and 30 percent had at least three or more chronic conditions. Researchers discovered that even though older women were more likely to report multiple chronic conditions, they also were least likely to use the internet to access health information.

This raises a red flag, researchers say, because online resources and seeking information from other people with similar health issues may be beneficial to these patients and improve their condition.

“Self-care, including the use of online resources, is an important component in managing chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, high blood pressure, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, depression and anxiety. Effective management of these types of conditions delays or prevents them from becoming debilitating, maintaining quality of life for the patient and saving health care dollars,” the researchers said in a news release.

The study also found that non-Internet users were more likely to need help learning how to manage their condition. Among those who used the internet, nearly 19 percent participated in online chatrooms, listservs and discussions, while about 45 percent read about the experiences of other chronic pain patients.

The internet is an important tool for knowledge-sharing and socialization. People who experience chronic pain not only can find information online, they can find solace and understanding by connecting with other people in the same situation. To be clear, online resources shouldn’t replace the expertise and advice of a skilled medical professional or doctor (medical Googling, after all, comes with its own risks for misinformation), but visiting reputable health sources online — like this blog — may help patients get the critical information they need.

Self-care is important for managing chronic conditions, and by extension, improving quality of life. The study’s researchers say that understanding how women with chronic conditions use the internet may encourage public health and policy efforts “to increase internet availability, to educate patients about online resources and to tailor internet-based materials to self-care needs.”

I wholeheartedly agree with this. More people are living with chronic conditions, and they need help managing these health issues. If we can provide accurate information and make sure they can access it online, we may start to see incremental improvement in how they manage their condition. This, along with access to quality medical care, could make a big difference for so many patients.