Gender Differences in Utilization of Healthcare IT: A Reflection of the Bigger Picture
By David Lee Scher, MD (9/18/2011)
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, more women research health topics on the Internet than men. This holds true across all age groups except those over 65, where Internet usage for healthcare searches was low among both genders. This does not surprise me, as a physician who recently left practice. Women are more proactive in healthcare whether it be for themselves or for significant others. They are more likely to accompany their SO to a medical appointment than vice versa to serve as a patient advocate. They ask more questions as well as do more research on their own. This gender difference may be related to factors that make them ask for car directions more often (before GPS days).
Men are more ‘nuts and bolts’ and black and white with regards to questions about their surgical procedure, for example. How will it affect their work, recovery period, and how soon it can be performed? Women are more interested in alternative treatments, effects on general lifestyle, and complications (though I always explained the procedure, alternative treatments, recovery, and risks equally thoroughly with both genders). These are generalizations, but reflect 20 years of my experience. I personally observed the higher rate of Internet usage for healthcare research by women.
Differences in healthcare between men and women are not new. It is well-known that women get less appropriate cardiac care than men. Women are not enrolled in clinical trials to the same extent as men. There are now initiatives in the National Institutes of Health focused on equal recruitment of women in clinical trials.
In most categories of Internet activity, more men than women participate. However, women spend more time online. So it is interesting that women outnumber men with regards to healthcare related internet searches. Women also utilize social networking sites more than men. Perhaps they exchange more healthcare related discussions in these interactions. It reflects the increased interest in healthcare in general among women than men. Women are more apt to pursue preventive medicine pathways then men.
There is not much in any literature or online regarding the differences in IT utilization between men and women. Hopefully, the National Center for Health Statistics will continue to monitor and get more specific about this topic. It is fascinating and perhaps the Internet will be the tail that wags the dog with regards to improving healthcare in both sexes!
To test Scher’s hypothesis, please send us a short email (or comment below) with your first name (or gender) to tell us about the types of health information you search for online (and how mHealthTalk can help).
About David Lee Scher, MD
Dr. Scher is a medical pioneer (earliest adopter of remote patient monitoring and interoperability with EHR), a lifecycle contributor to development of new technology and regulatory approval as a clinical investigator, and a Medicare Carrier Advisory Committee member. He writes a blog on mHealth and can be reached by email or through Linkedin.
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