Introduction: Increasing prevalence of Internet and new technologies are changing the communication pattern for patients and caregivers across the cancer care continuum. To date, little is known on how cancer survivors in the USA utilize the Internet for health-related purposes. This knowledge is crucial in developing effective communication programs to achieve quality and equitable cancer care.
Methods: Data from 2003, 2005, and 2008 iterations of the NCI-sponsored Health Information National Trends Survey(HINTS) were analyzed to: (1) compare health-related Internet use (hereafter HRIU) between individuals with and without a cancer diagnosis, (2) report trends, prevalence, and user profiles of HRIU, including support group participation, e-mailing provider, buying medicine online, and cancer information seeking on the Internet. Descriptive analyses and weighted multivariate logistic regression analyses were performed.
Results: While Internet penetration is growing over the years across the USA, cancer survivors access the Internet at a lower rate than general population (49.4% to 56.4% vs. 63.1% to 66.3%). Once on the Internet, they are more likely to use it for health-related purposes. Disparities in Internet access persists, as higher likelihood of Internet access is associated with younger age, higher education, non-Hispanic White race/ethnicity, metropolitan residence, and better self-rated health. On the other hand, among Internet-accessing survivors, socio-demographic, and health factors do not play a significant role in determining the pattern of HRIU.
Conclusions: The study identifies an increasing trend in HRIU among survivors, though the digital divide remains in Internet access. The findings also point to opportunities for narrowing the divide and using Internet to better serve survivors' needs, as individuals from wide-ranging backgrounds and experiences are equally engaging in health-related activities on the Internet. IMPLICATIONS FOR SURVIVORS: To increase equity and effectiveness in communication and cancer care, Internet access, functions, and technology literacy are important factors to be considered.