FLINDERS University researchers question the delivery of online health information and services after their study uncovers a variation in digital technology use amongst disadvantaged Australians.
The Flinders University study, funded by SA health and the Department of Further Education, Employment, Science and Technology, identified a wide variation in extent, frequency and quality of use of digital technologies (computers, internet and mobile phones) amongst disadvantaged groups.
According to Dr Newman, lead author of the study, the increasing delivery of digitally-mediated information and communication by government and health providers has implications for disadvantaged groups who are unable to use or frequently access digital technologies.
“There’s quite a lot of online health information now,” Dr Newman says.
“One example is the Western Australian Department of Health’s website where they’ve got a GP after-hours service advertised and an iPhone application which is downloadable.
“What they are saying is that if you use this application on your iPhone it would be quicker and easier and you can find the GP after-hours clinic nearest to your current location on the Google-powered maps on your phone, search for your nearest clinic by suburb or direction and call the after-hours place straight from your application.
“Then it says if you haven’t got an iPhone then you can do it straight from your mobile if you have an internet connection.
“They are trying to give people more instant access which might stop them going to an accident and emergency (A & E) department but we know that 50 per cent of Australian adults don’t have a smart phone or don’t have the internet on their phone.
“That’s great for the people who can use it but it’s probably helping more advantaged people.”
Dr Newman says the people who have the higher needs in terms of health are less likely to have the internet.
“If we’re going to have things like iPhone applications, we really should stop and think first who we are trying to communicate with and do these people actually have the technologies we assume they have.
“People are saying the internet is the fourth essential utility after water, gas and electricity and we know that the federal and local government give subsidies to [other essentials].
“I think if the internet is such an important thing then should that be subsidised in some ways to low income earners. The financial side of it is only one aspect.
Flinders University researchers, Kate Patel and Prof. Fran Baum, also contributed to the study.