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Policy Perspectives
October 21, 1998

Access to Health Information and Support: A Public Highway or a Private Road?

Author Affiliations

From the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (Drs Eng and Deering) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Dr Maxfield), US Department of Health and Human Services, and the Academy for Educational Development (Dr Ratzan), Washington, DC; Graduate School of Public Health, San Diego State University, San Diego, Calif (Dr Patrick); Department of Family Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine, Medford, Mass (Dr Ratzan); and the Departments of Industrial Engineering and Preventive Medicine, University of Wisconsin, Madison (Dr Gustafson).

JAMA. 1998;280(15):1371-1375. doi:10.1001/jama.280.15.1371

Information and communication technologies may help reduce health disparities through their potential for promoting health, preventing disease, and supporting clinical care for all. Unfortunately, those who have preventable health problems and lack health insurance coverage are the least likely to have access to such technologies. Barriers to access include cost, geographic location, illiteracy, disability, and factors related to the capacity of people to use these technologies appropriately and effectively. A goal of universal access to health information and support is proposed to augment existing initiatives to improve the health of individuals and the public. Both public- and private-sector stakeholders, particularly government agencies and private corporations, will need to collaboratively reduce the gap between the health information "haves" and "have-nots." This will include supporting health information technology access in homes and public places, developing applications for the growing diversity of users, funding research on access-related issues, ensuring the quality of health information and support, enhancing literacy in health and technology, training health information intermediaries, and integrating the concept of universal access to health information and support into health planning processes.

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