The digital divide at an urban community health center: implications for quality improvement and health care access

J Community Health. 2011 Jun;36(3):456-60. doi: 10.1007/s10900-010-9327-5.


Health care policy encourages better electronic connectivity between patient and the office practice. However, whether patients are able to partner with the practice in using communication technologies is not known. We sought to determine (1) the proportion of clinic patients who use internet and cell phone text messaging technologies, (2) the level of patient interest in using these technologies for the purpose of managing clinical appointments and patient education. Consecutive adult patients, clinicians and staff at an urban community health center were surveyed during a one-week period in order to estimate the frequency of technology use by patients. A total of 308 survey cards were collected during the designated week (response rate of 85% (308/362). One-third (34.0%, 105) of surveyed patients used the internet and text messaging daily or weekly, while nearly two-thirds (59.7%, 182) never used these technologies. There were no racial or gender differences in the proportion of patients who used the internet daily or weekly. In contrast, African-Americans used text messaging more often than whites (28.2 vs. 21.4%, P < .05), and females more than males (30.8 vs. 18.5%, P < .05). Younger patients (>50) used the internet and text messaging more often than older patients (50.6 vs. 16.6%, 44.3 vs. 7.3%, respectively). Despite the low use of both technologies, patient's interest in managing clinic appointments was high (40.3% for the Internet and 56.8% for text messaging). Clinicians and staff estimated patient's daily/weekly use of internet and cellphone messaging at 40.3% (± 22.0), and 56.8% (± 25.7), respectively. Most patients at this urban community health center reported never using the internet or cell phone text messaging. Clinicians overestimated technology use by patients. Planning for clinic infrastructure, quality improvement, and patient education should include assessment of technology use patterns by patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • African Americans / statistics & numerical data
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Appointments and Schedules
  • Cell Phone / statistics & numerical data*
  • Community Health Centers / organization & administration*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination / methods*
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Education as Topic / methods
  • Quality Improvement
  • Sex Factors
  • Urban Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Young Adult