Background: Despite the increasing penetration of the Internet and amount of online health information, there are significant barriers that limit its widespread adoption as a source of health information. One is the "digital divide," with people of higher socioeconomic position (SEP) demonstrating greater access and usage compared to those from lower SEP groups. However, as the access gap narrows over time and more people use the Internet, a shift in research needs to occur to explore how one might improve Internet use as well as website design for a range of audiences. This is particularly important in the case of novice users who may not have the technical skills, experience, or social connections that could help them search for health information using the Internet. The focus of our research is to investigate the challenges in the implementation of a project to improve health information seeking among low SEP groups. The goal of the project is not to promote health information seeking as much as to understand the barriers and facilitators to computer and Internet use, beyond access, among members of lower SEP groups in an urban setting.
Objective: The purpose was to qualitatively describe participants' self-identified barriers and facilitators to computer and Internet use during a 1-year pilot study as well as the challenges encountered by the research team in the delivery of the intervention.
Methods: Between August and November 2005, 12 low-SEP urban individuals with no or limited computer and Internet experience were recruited through a snowball sampling. Each participant received a free computer system, broadband Internet access, monthly computer training courses, and technical support for 1 year as the intervention condition. Upon completion of the study, participants were offered the opportunity to complete an in-depth semistructured interview. Interviews were approximately 1 hour in length and were conducted by the project director. The interviews were held in the participants' homes and were tape recorded for accuracy. Nine of the 12 study participants completed the semistructured interviews. Members of the research team conducted a qualitative analysis based on the transcripts from the nine interviews using the crystallization/immersion method.
Results: Nine of the 12 participants completed the in-depth interview (75% overall response rate), with three men and six women agreeing to be interviewed. Major barriers to Internet use that were mentioned included time constraints and family conflict over computer usage. The monthly training classes and technical assistance components of the intervention surfaced as the most important facilitators to computer and Internet use. The concept of received social support from other study members, such as assistance with computer-related questions, also emerged as an important facilitator to overall computer usage.
Conclusions: This pilot study offers important insights into the self-identified barriers and facilitators in computer and Internet use among urban low-SEP novice users as well as the challenges faced by the research team in implementing the intervention.