When it comes to the benefits of electronic health records, older Americans may be left behind, according to a new University of Michigan study.

Less than a third of Americans age 65 and over use the web for health information and barely 10 percent of those with low health literacy--or ability to navigate the healthcare system--go online for health-related matters, according to the nationally representative study that appears in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

“In recent years we have invested many resources in Web-based interventions to help improve people’s health, such as electronic health records designed to help patients become more active participants in their care. But many older Americans, especially those with low health literacy, may not be prepared for these new tools,” lead author Helen Levy, research associate professor at the U-M Institute for Social Research, said.

“Our findings suggest that there’s a digital divide when it comes to healthcare. Older adults with low health literacy especially represent a vulnerable population that’s at high risk of being left behind by the advance of technology.”

Senior author Kenneth Langa, M.D., added that outreach programs need to consider interventions that target health literacy among older adults to help narrow the gap and reduce the risk of deepening disparities in health access and outcomes.

The researchers analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Study, a long-running data collection effort of the U-M Institute for Social Research whose primary sponsor is the National Institute on Aging.

The study is available here.

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