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Tackling the digital divide: Exploring the impact of ICT on managing heart conditions in a deprived area

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The Internet is increasingly used to communicate health knowledge and there is growing belief that it can help transform both personal and public health. There is no lack of information on healthy lifestyles, but the manner of communication of risk and the level of support for lifestyle change need improvement, especially among deprived populations. Assisting vulnerable persons to increase their health knowledge could help them to be more responsible for maintaining their health. The Internet offers potential for interactivity by providing a dynamic medium for influencing learning and behaviour change, especially in so far as it enables inter-subjective communication among peers. This paper examines how the Internet might help tackle health inequalities by improving communication of risk and providing support for those who are most susceptible to changing their behaviour. The authors provide a descriptive account of whether facilitated access to the Internet may improve the capacity of older men to manage their heart conditions. Nine men aged 50 to 74 living in multiply deprived areas of Salford were given computers, Internet access and training for six months. Interviews and qualitative data were collected to assess the influence the Internet had on the management of their heart conditions before they were given the computers, after six months and three years after they were introduced to the Internet. The study was exploratory but its results suggest that interactive learning is worthwhile because it can help strengthen social support and influence behaviour change. Home access to the Internet via their own personal computer had a beneficial influence in building confidence and facilitating healthy behaviour change. Although less than half of the participants had ever used the Internet before the study, the majority of them reported using the Internet and email regularly after their involvement in the project.
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Keywords: Digital divide; e-health; heart disease; interactive learning

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: 4th Floor Humphrey Booth House, University of Salford, Salford, UK 2: Informatics Research Institute at the University of Salford, 500d Maxwell Building, University of Salford, The Crescent, Salford, UK 3: 4th Floor Humphrey Booth House, University of Salford, The Crescent, Salford, UK

Publication date: February 1, 2007

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