Association of Smartphone Ownership and Internet Use With Markers of Health Literacy and Access: Cross-sectional Survey Study of Perspectives From Project PLACE (Population Level Approaches to Cancer Elimination).

Journal Article (Journal Article)

BACKGROUND: Telehealth is an increasingly important component of health care delivery in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, well-documented disparities persist in the use of digital technologies. OBJECTIVE: This study aims to describe smartphone and internet use within a diverse sample, to assess the association of smartphone and internet use with markers of health literacy and health access, and to identify the mediating factors in these relationships. METHODS: Surveys were distributed to a targeted sample designed to oversample historically underserved communities from April 2017 to December 2017. Multivariate logistic regression was used to estimate the association of internet and smartphone use with outcomes describing health care access and markers of health literacy for the total cohort and after stratifying by personal history of cancer. Health care access was captured using multiple variables, including the ability to obtain medical care when needed. Markers of health literacy included self-reported confidence in obtaining health information. RESULTS: Of the 2149 participants, 1319 (61.38%) were women, 655 (30.48%) were non-Hispanic White, and 666 (30.99%) were non-Hispanic Black. The median age was 51 years (IQR 38-65). Most respondents reported using the internet (1921/2149, 89.39%) and owning a smartphone (1800/2149, 83.76%). Compared with the respondents with smartphone or internet access, those without smartphone or internet access were more likely to report that a doctor was their most recent source of health information (344/1800, 19.11% vs 116/349, 33.2% for smartphone and 380/1921, 19.78% vs 80/228, 35.1% for internet, respectively; both P<.001). Internet use was associated with having looked for information on health topics from any source (odds ratio [OR] 3.81, 95% CI 2.53-5.75) and confidence in obtaining health information when needed (OR 1.83, 95% CI 1.00-3.34) compared with noninternet users. Smartphone owners had lower odds of being unable to obtain needed medical care (OR 0.62, 95% CI 0.40-0.95) than nonsmartphone owners. Among participants with a prior history of cancer, smartphone ownership was significantly associated with higher odds of confidence in ability to obtain needed health information (OR 5.63, 95% CI 1.05-30.23) and lower odds of inability to obtain needed medical care (OR 0.17, 95% CI 0.06-0.47), although these associations were not significant among participants without a prior history of cancer. CONCLUSIONS: We describe widespread use of digital technologies in a community-based cohort, although disparities persist. In this cohort, smartphone ownership was significantly associated with ability to obtain needed medical care, suggesting that the use of smartphone technology may play a role in increasing health care access. Similarly, major illnesses such as cancer have the potential to amplify health engagement. Finally, special emphasis must be placed on reaching patient populations with limited digital access, so these patients are not further disadvantaged in the new age of telehealth.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Oshima, SM; Tait, SD; Thomas, SM; Fayanju, OM; Ingraham, K; Barrett, NJ; Hwang, ES

Published Date

  • June 9, 2021

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 23 / 6

Start / End Page

  • e24947 -

PubMed ID

  • 34106076

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC8262672

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1438-8871

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.2196/24947


  • eng

Conference Location

  • Canada