This chapter overviews an integrative model of e-health use that connects social disparities at the population level with individual characteristics related to the amount and type of online health information usage, thus providing an account of the ways in which societal disparities play out in individual e-health usage patterns. Based on an overview of the literature on e-health disparities, we suggest that sociallevel disparities are manifested in the form of individual-level differences in health information orientation and health information efficacy, which in turn influence the amount and type of online health use. Exploring the underlying social structures that enable individual-level access, motivation, and ability to utilize the Internet for health and how these structures interact with individual motivation and ability advances our understanding of the Internet, the digital divide, and health disparities.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Digital Divide: Digital Divide is the term used to define the gap between people who have and people who do not have access to Internet technology; it is the differences between the technological “haves” and “have nots”. In recent years this term has been extended to include differentials in Internet usage patterns.
Integrative Model of E-Health Use (IMEHU): A theoretical framework based on several information processing, media use, and channel complementarity theories that suggests that macro-level disparities in social structures are manifested in individual-level differences in motivation and ability, thus connecting the broader structures in social systems with the micro-level contexts within which these structures constrain and enable human agency.
Marginalization: The process whereby a group of individuals who share physical, cultural, or other characteristics is ostracized from other societal groups which leads to differential and unequal treatment and the population being underserved in one or more ways.
Health Information Efficacy: The intrinsic consumer belief in his or her ability to search for and process health information. It is the perceived ability of an individual to seek out health information and to do so in a way that is beneficial, given seeking purposes.
Internet Usage Patterns: Internet functions, or the ways in which the Internet is used by the consumer to achieve certain goals.
Health Information Orientation: The intrinsic interest in health-related issues.
Social/Structural Disparities: The differences between certain segments of the population in terms of access and usage of core benefits such as healthcare and Internet. Such differences include socioeconomic status (education, income), race, gender, and age. When individuals of one demographic have fewer opportunities to engage with structural elements of society there is said to be a social/structural disparity at play.