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Fears about the digital divide between advantaged and disadvantaged families may not be warranted

Concern about the digital divide between advantaged and disadvantaged families may be unwarranted, suggests a new study. Study results show that regardless of socioeconomic status, most families visiting pediatric clinics in the State of Washington liked using computers and felt comfortable using the Internet. Thus, fears about using the Internet should not be seen as a barrier to developing Internet-based health interventions for a pediatric clinic population, according to first author Aaron E. Carroll, M.D., M.S., of the Indiana University School of Medicine, and his colleagues. Their work was supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS13302).

The researchers conducted a telephone survey among a population-based sample of parents with children aged 1 to 11 years who received medical care from a community-based clinic network in one Washington county. They asked parents about their education and income, attitudes toward computers, concerns about Internet confidentiality, and comfort using the Internet. Overall, 88 percent of respondents used a computer once a week or more, and 83 percent had favorable attitudes toward computers. Computer use was not restricted to those who owned computers. Even among those who did not own home computers, 45 percent used a computer at least once a week.

Families with Internet access were more comfortable using the Internet (93 percent) than families without access (75 percent), but even among households with the smallest annual income, 82 percent said they felt comfortable using the Internet. Although 97 percent of respondents were willing to share personal information over the Internet, many considered data security important. Household income and parental education were associated with comfort and familiarity with computers, but the effect was small.

See "Perceptions about computers and the Internet in a pediatric clinic population," by Dr. Carroll, Frederick J. Zimmerman, Ph.D., Frederick P. Rivara, M.D., M.P.H., and others, in the March 2005 Ambulatory Pediatrics 5, pp. 122-126.

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