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Safety net sites hold tech barriers for poor, survey finds


By Paul Barr
Posted: February 28, 2013 - 12:15 pm ET
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A survey of lower-income patients indicates they are interested in using methods such as e-mail and texting to communicate with their doctors but can't because of the technology at the health facilities they use.

The survey results, published online by the Journal of General Internal Medicine, found that a significant number of the 416 respondents use e-mail, texting or the Internet and expressed an interest in using it to share information with their physicians.

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But that isn’t happening to the degree it is in other settings, the authors wrote. The biggest barrier is that the technology currently in use at safety net providers is often in English only or requires a high degree of literacy, both of which limit its use for that population, said senior author Dr. Urmimala Sarkar, who is an assistant professor of medicine with the UCSF Department of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine, and the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations at San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center.

And this isn’t a problem of just convenience, Sarkar said. “There’s increasing data that (indicates) this could widen disparities if we don’t do something about it,” she said.

Sixty percent of the respondents use e-mail and 19% use it informally with healthcare providers. Seventy-one percent were interested in using technology in interactions with their providers, according to the study.

Funding for the study came from UCSF Clinical and Translational Science Institute and the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality.


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