The Digital Divide and Personal Health Records: An Outdated Misconception

One misconception clinicians and policy-makers have about a Personal Health Record is that it is a luxury available only to a wealthier minority and that, as a result, anyone promoting it is somehow turning their back on a whole segment of the population. The desire to improve access is one we at PKB fully support; we therefore strongly believe that this interpretation of PHRs is outdated and bad for patients. This is why the UK government, for example, has a Digital First strategy for the NHS. Digital services should be offered as the default, rather than delaying because of fears over access. In fact, if we look at the numbers, access is at remarkable levels already.

A study recently released by Ofcom, as part of an effort to “scorecard” internet and mobile infrastructure, access and speed in the UK, found the UK is a leader. It scores a whopping 81% of individuals accessing the internet at least once a week.


And only 11% of individuals have never used the internet.


In addition, household coverage is similarly impressive, at 95%-100%.


And while some populations, especially the elderly, may be slower in adopting new technology, they still seem to be adopting mobile phones and internet at a rapid clip. This, from another Ofcom study into the “Generation Gap” for new media adoption. The increases between 2005 and 2012 are quite remarkable across all age groups.


As smartphones proliferate and become ever more commoditized, the ability to access a PHR becomes ever easier. In other words, the underlying dynamics point to a much more connected world, in which the vast majority of the population can access the internet from some device.

All these data points, in the end, simply verify what we see all around us. The internet and attendant mobile device proliferation have not only exposed us to a wealth of new services and applications, but they have fundamentally improved our relationship with technology. As more people gain access to data, so can they more comfortably access their health data. And while there will always be those who for any number of reasons are limited in their ability to use technology or understand the information in their PHR, it is our job to not only make sure someone can help them navigate their care and records, but to also do our best to empower them and improve their health and technology literacy so that they too can engage in their care and develop the skills necessary to manage their health records on the web.


  1. How are you going about helping those who dont access the net please? Many people who do use it a lot still dont know how to access health information – or eventhat it exists

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