The digital divide in adoption and use of a personal health record

Arch Intern Med. 2011 Mar 28;171(6):568-74. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2011.34.


Background: Personal health records (PHRs) offer the potential to improve the patient experience and the quality of patient care. However, the "digital divide," the population-level gap in Internet and computer access, may prevent certain groups from accessing the PHR.

Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional analysis of a PHR within a northeastern health system. We compared adopters (ie, those activating a PHR account online) with nonadopters (ie, those who see a physician offering the PHR but do not activate an account). We further categorized adopters by intensity of PHR use, measured by number of log-ins and number of messages sent to physicians' practices.

Results: As of September 30, 2009, among 75,056 patients, 43% had adopted the PHR since 2002. Blacks and Hispanics were less likely to adopt the PHR compared with whites (odds ratio [OR], 0.50; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.45-0.55; and 0.64; 0.57-0.73, respectively), and those with lower annual income were less likely to adopt the PHR than were those with higher income. Compared with nonadopters, adopters were more likely to have more than 2 comorbidities (OR, 1.27; 95% CI, 1.17-1.30). Use of an aggressive marketing strategy for PHR enrollment increased adoption nearly 3-fold (OR, 2.92; 95% CI, 1.58-5.40). Intensity of use was best predicted by increasing number of comorbidities, followed by race/ethnicity (whites more than blacks and Hispanics) and insurance status. We found no association between income and log-in frequency or secure messages sent.

Conclusions: Despite increasing Internet availability, racial/ethnic minority patients adopted a PHR less frequently than white patients, and patients with the lowest annual income adopted a PHR less often than those with higher incomes. Among adopters, however, income did not have an effect on PHR use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Electronic Health Records*
  • Female
  • Health Care Reform
  • Health Records, Personal*
  • Humans
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Access to Records*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States