Consumer Health Informatics Adoption among Underserved Populations: Thinking beyond the Digital Divide

Yearb Med Inform. 2018 Aug;27(1):146-155. doi: 10.1055/s-0038-1641217. Epub 2018 Aug 29.


Objectives: Underserved populations can benefit from consumer health informatics (CHI) that promotes self-management at a lower cost. However, prior literature suggested that the digital divide and low motivation constituted barriers to CHI adoption. Despite increased Internet use, underserved populations continue to show slow CHI uptake. The aim of the paper is to revisit barriers and facilitators that may impact CHI adoption among underserved populations.

Methods: We surveyed the past five years of literature. We searched PubMed for articles published between 2012 and 2017 that describe empirical evaluations involving CHI use by underserved populations. We abstracted and summarized data about facilitators and barriers impacting CHI adoption.

Results: From 645 search results, after abstract and full-text screening, 13 publications met the inclusion criteria of identifying barriers to and facilitators of underserved populations' CHI adoption. Contrary to earlier literature, the studies suggested that the motivation to improve health literacy and adopt technology was high among studied populations. Beyond the digital divide, barriers included: low health and computer literacy, challenges in accepting the presented information, poor usability, and unclear content. Factors associated with increased use were: user needs for information, user-access mediated by a proxy person, and early user engagement in system design.

Conclusions: While the digital divide remains a barrier, newer studies show that high motivation for CHI use exists. However, simply gaining access to technology is not sufficient to improve adoption unless CHI technology is tailored to address user needs. Future interventions should consider building larger empirical evidence on identifying CHI barriers and facilitators.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Consumer Health Informatics* / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Medical Informatics Applications
  • Medically Underserved Area*
  • Minority Groups
  • Socioeconomic Factors