Low-Income Patients Interested in Digital Health Communication


Many lower-income patients say they would like to communicate electronically with their health care providers but are unable to do so because of insufficient technology at the clinics where they receive care, according to a new study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, Medical News Today reports.

Study Details

For the study, researchers from the University of California-San Francisco surveyed 416 patients at six San Francisco Department of Public Health community clinics that primarily serve uninsured or publically insured individuals.

The study participants: 

  • Were ethnically and racially diverse;
  • Spoke 24 different primary languages; and
  • Were representative of the overall clinic population (Medical News Today, 2/27).

Study Findings

The study found that:

  • 78% of the study participants expressed interest in electronic communication with their health care providers (Martinez, "On Central," KPCC, 2/27);
  • 60% said they use email;
  • 54% said they obtain information from the Internet; and
  • 17% said they already use email to communicate informally with their health care providers.

According to the researchers, many safety-net clinics do not offer the patient portals or secure messaging systems necessary to support electronic communication with doctors.

Comments on Study

Adam Schickedanz -- lead study author and medical resident at the UCSF Department of Pediatrics -- said, "Our work makes it clear that lower-income patients from a wide variety of backgrounds want to be part of the health information technology revolution." Schickedanz added, "The question is whether they will be afforded the opportunities to take part in the same way as their middle- and higher-income peers."

Urmimala Sarkar -- senior author and assistant professor of medicine with the UCSF Department of Medicine -- said, "Electronic health-related communication is becoming the standard of care in well-resourced settings, and should be implemented and supported in resource-poor settings."

The researchers recommended that future research examine preferences among diverse patient populations for electronically communicating with health care providers. They noted that such research might look at the benefits of tailoring existing communications systems to specific languages and literacy levels (Medical News Today, 2/27).

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