Or: Why health geeks should pay attention to internet access geeks.

The Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Project and Internet Project just released an in-depth look at internet penetration across racial and ethnic categories in the U.S.: Latinos Online, 2006-2008

From 2006 to 2008, internet use among Latino adults rose by 10 percentage points, from 54% to 64%.  In comparison, the rates for whites rose four percentage points, and the rates for blacks rose only two percentage points during that time period.  Though Latinos continue to lag behind whites, the gap in internet use has shrunk considerably.

Most of the growth is coming from foreign-born Latinos and those living in lower-income households. Native-born and higher-income Latinos, like non-Hispanic whites, may have already reached internet saturation in 2006.

Another group that has not moved the needle since 2006: people living with chronic conditions.

My next report will focus on internet use among adults living with chronic diseases (with a special focus on diabetes, heart conditions, lung conditions, high blood pressure, and/or cancer).  The last time I took a look at this group was in 2007, when we asked a broader question to define e-patients living with a disability or chronic disease. No matter which way we slice the population, though, I can tell you that internet access is still low among people challenged by health problems. Not much has changed in two years.

The good news, however, is that once online, people living with chronic conditions get right in there — communicating with friends and family via email, looking online for health information, and upgrading to broadband at home.

So: if you believe that participatory medicine starts with participation by the patient, pay attention to internet access numbers (especially broadband and wireless figures). Participation matters, but without access, it’s a moot point.

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