Access to and use of health information are critical to personal and public health outcomes. Better health information access and use help individuals improve knowledge, increase use of health services, reduce health care costs, adopt healthier behavioral patterns, and therefore promote health. But not everyone has the same access to this information.
In a University at Buffalo study published in The Journal of Rural Health, a team looked at how rural residents may have lower access to and use of certain health information sources relative to urban residents.
“We investigated differences in information source access and use between rural and urban US adults and whether having low health literacy might exacerbate rural disparities in access to and use of health information,” stated Dr. Xuewei Chen, the lead author on the study.
The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, surveyed six hundred participants (50 percent rural) about access and use of 25 health information sources and found that compared to urban residents, rural residents had lower access to health information from the following sources: primary care providers, specialist doctors, blogs, and magazines, and less use of search engines. After accounting for sociodemographics, rural residents only had lower access to specialist doctors than urban residents. Rural residents with limited health literacy had lower access to mass media and scientific literature but higher use of corporations/companies than rural residents with adequate health literacy and urban residents regardless of health literacy level.
“We concluded differences in access to and use of health information sources may be accounted for by sociodemographic differences between rural and urban populations,” stated Dr. Chen. “There may be structural barriers such as shortage of specialist doctors and limited media exposure that make it harder for rural residents to access health information, especially those with limited health literacy.”
Dr. Chen, is currently a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior at the University at Buffalo. Study co-authors include Dr. Heather Orom, Assistant Dean for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Director of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor in the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior of the University at Buffalo; Dr. Jennifer L. Hay, Elizabeth Schofield, and Dr. Yuelin Li of the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center; Dr. Erika A. Waters of the Department of Surgery (Division of Public Health Sciences) at the Washington University Medical School; and Dr. Marc T. Kiviniemi from the Department of Health, Behavior, and Society at the University of Kentucky.