Internet for all

Post from Jean Thilmany:


Jean Thilmany

I was surprised by the findings of a recent study conducted in the Emergency Department at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

In a study of mostly minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged families, 99 percent of participants reported having access to the Internet. Of the 509 families in the study, 503 reported access to the Internet either at home, work, or via their mobile device.

The study is published in the June issue of the journal Pediatric Emergency Care and was undertaken to determine the participant’s interest in receiving electronic health information from the emergency department. The study showed e-mail was the preferred method of receiving the information.

“This represents a novel opportunity to engage a larger proportion of urban families in efforts to help improve their health through better education,” said Mohsen Saidinejad, the study’s author and an emergency medicine physician at Children’s National Medical Center.

The emergency department’s goal to improve health education and patient communication in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas is laudable. But I remain, even in this day and age, unsure about the Internet and email as a way of reaching these communities. Having access—either at home, work, or via a device—is different than having unlimited access, as those with high-speed wireless at home have. I also know that it is hard for those in rural areas to get a reliable signal.

Also, if you only have a short period of time to access the Internet, say if you’re at a library or at a workplace that frowns on or tracks time spent on the web, you’ll be less likely to open and read the type’s of health e-mails the medical center intends to send.

The same is true for those on slow at-home connections. When was the last time you waited for a page to load? Chances are that if you’ve ever done so, you won’t be checking impersonal e-mails from large organizations any time soon. And many hate reading and responding to e-mails handheld devices.

Overall, even today, the Internet and e-mail are still an imperfect way to reach large numbers of people. Too often, Internet access is still limited, even when available. Undoubtedly, this is changing.

Still, the large number of people with Internet access reported in the study is cheering. It proves that the Internet is truly a necessity… not that you didn’t know that already.

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The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

June 2012

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