Enhancing Access to Relevant Health Information

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Gary Kreps
National Cancer Institute, NIH

Underserved populations (often those who are of low socioeconomic status, low levels
of literacy, ethic minorities, and have limited education, etc.) have limited access
to relevant health information, especially information widely available over the Internet (1).
These underserved populations are also subject to serious disparities in health care and
generally have much higher rates of morbidity and mortality due to serious health threats
than the rest of the public (2). New strategies and policies need to be developed to help these
underserved populations get increased access to relevant health information to help them
make good health-related decisions, such as seeking appropriate health care and support,
resisting avoidable and significant health risks, and promoting their health.


This pattern occurs in all societies where there are pockets of poverty, illiteracy, and social
disenfranchisement. It is a significant problem in the USA, but also is an issue in many
different countries and cultures. Health and health care are universal issues that affect all
people and relevant health information is a critical resource that empowers people to make good
decisions to enhance their health and well-being.


Health information is essential in health care and health promotion because it provides
both direction and rationale for guiding strategic health behaviors, treatments, and
decisions (3). The Digital Divide has been identified as a special problem in health care
that can lead to significant disparities in care. Many studies show that certain ethnic
minorities and low-income, less-educated populations in the USA suffer a disproportionate
cancer burden and have limited access to electronic information about health (2). However,
too little is known about certain groups' interest in and use of cancer information tools.
The U.S. Department of Commerce and other groups have documented the Digital Divide that
separates those who have access to computer technology and the vast storehouse of information
available through the World Wide Web from those who lack access (1, 4). As a recent White House (2000)
report emphasized, the gap between people who have access to the latest Information Age tools
and those who do not is widening, and the Digital Divide is growing along racial and ethnic
lines. Recently, the White House (2000) issued a report and a set of steps they intended to
take to break down the Digital Divide (5). One of their goals is to make access to computers and
the Internet as universal as the telephone is today. The 2010 Healthy People (2000) report for
the first time has a section on health communications, with goals for access to health
communications. The Digital Divide is a special problem in health care. Many of the
characteristics that identify those on the "have not" side of the Digital Divide also
characterize those who suffer the negative effects of health disparities - -e.g., people
with less education, low income, and ethnic minorities. While information and knowledge
are not guarantees of good health care decisions and adherence to recommended health behaviors,
there is ample evidence that they contribute to them. Currently, substantial barriers prevent
major segments of the population from seeking and/or using online health information.


The National Cancer Institute (NCI) awarded close to $1 million to help develop research
and development projects to increase understanding and help to narrow the digital
divide that exists among many under-served populations in accessing and utilizing cancer
information on the Internet. The awards were an effort of NCI's Cancer Information Service
(CIS) to work with regional cancer control groups and organizations to test new strategies
aimed at increasing cancer communications in under-served communities.

These funded projects attempt to increase understanding of why barriers to information and
knowledge exist, and use the data gleaned from these pilot projects to design programs that
can lead to better health care decisions and adherence to recommended health behaviors.
These pilot projects will serve as models for larger scale efforts. This pattern will describe
the four NCI funded projects and present preliminary data about the impact of these programs
on cancer information dissemination to under-served populations.

Pattern status: