Background: Little is known about how primary care patients in rural, remote or border areas use the internet for their health information. This study examined the factors related to internet use for medical information among primary care clinic patients in such areas of West Texas.
Methods: A convenience sample was drawn from nine clinics that serve low-income rural area populations. Surveys were distributed to the patients during a 6-week period in the winter of 2006. The analytical sample included 1890 participants. Logistic regressions were conducted.
Results: Of 1890 subjects, 699 (37%) reported having used the internet for medical information. Among those who reported using the internet for health information, respondents’ primary usage pattern was to request more health information (29.9%), followed by the purchase of health supplies (13.4%). Most internet users (78.8%) agreed that the online medical/health information had improved their understanding of a specific condition, disease, or treatment. Almost 60% of the internet users thought the information was reliable. The correlates of internet use included health insurance, self-rated health, health confidence, and number of worried days as well as age, education level, ethnicity, and language.
Conclusions: Our findings showed a much lower rate of internet use for medical/health information compared with a 2006 nationwide survey. This finding suggests that promoting health/medical information through websites or other on-line resources might not be the most effective way to reach a majority of patients in remote, rural or border areas.