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Dr. Zorba Paster: The digital divide is affecting more than our ability to order off the menu
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Dr. Zorba Paster: The digital divide is affecting more than our ability to order off the menu

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A few weeks ago I was in San Francisco with favorite cousins of mine. Wonderful city to be in.

First things first was to hunt out a restaurant near their business. We found a fine restaurant from the outside, fun when we walked in, the COVID debacle of non-inside restaurant eating safely behind us. We were all immunized, the restaurant had limited seating, the food got quite fine Yelp reviews.

So sitting down we looked a the paper menu, I was reminiscing about how much I missed those large plastic menus with long descriptions of the food. Then we had to order. No waiter. No waitress. One of the serving guys came over to tell us to use the QR code on the plastic display to place our order.

QR code. For those of us of a certain age, QR is not synonymous with anything that makes sense.

OK, I am an early adopter of things. I’m geeky. But I’m not pleased that there is not a human taking my order, someone whom I can ask about what they think might be good on the menu. But I think, and my cousins think, OK, let’s just suck it up and order this way.

So I take out my trusty iPhone. Now it’s not the latest iPhone. It’s a 6 not a 16, but it suits me perfectly. It has my email and an entry to Google (so that I can search for any inane or important thing that I might want), and so I set about ordering.

Failure. After 5 minutes I go up to the bar and, nicely, ask someone to come to the table to help us. The bartender, perhaps not realizing it, or perhaps realizing, rolls his eyes and says OK. Now I’m a patron of this establishment, not a worker bee. I really had to overlook it because I wanted to have a nice meal. So I smile and go back to our table.

Several minutes later, several minutes, another guy comes over and tells us that we should be able to do it. Assuring us, nicely, that this is the way they order in the restaurant. OK. I can adapt, and our goal is really to have a nice time out, so I pull out my phone and try, while he’s looking over my shoulder to get this QR (some might say Damn QR) code to work.

No dice. Nothing. Doesn’t work. So I hand it to him — I know when I’m stumped. He, nicely, takes the phone trying to get it to work. Two minutes later, it’s still not working, when he says, “Your phone is too old. I’ll just take your order.”

Hmmm ... old phone. It works for me and again, I’m not at work, I’m a patron. So to finish the story, (there is a reason behind my complaining) we had a fine meal. The food was great. The libation was great. The time with my favorite cousins was great. It’s important not to sweat the small things, as my mom was fond of saying.

But this brings me to the reason that I’m writing: The Digital Divide — age, face, how much you make, your level of education, your computer or smart savvy, all fit into this. And if you don’t have ready access to your health information, for example on your Epic MyChart, or the ability to Google your symptoms on the web you are not as likely to be healthy.

Research out of Florida Atlantic University uncovered just that thing. Collaborating with the world famous Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the University of Massachusetts Medical School they found that folks 60 and over, African Americans and Hispanics were much less likely to have access and/or know how to access their health information.

They were, now get this, three to five times less likely to be able to see their medical records, lab tests or reports from doctors, to make appointments or to ask for prescriptions.

This wasn’t just that they were less likely to have a computer, because many of them had smartphones which work just as well. And it wasn’t that they didn’t want this information. It’s that they just didn’t have someone to teach them how to access it.

My spin: The digital divide doesn’t just affect our kids, or the ability to get a job, it also affects our health. The disparity we see in longevity between African Americans, Hispanics and whites is not just due to health care access but also health information.

It’s time that our health care system, and our libraries, take action to close this divide. Good health information is a right for all of us. We just have to learn how to do it.

This column provides general health information. Always consult your personal health care provider about concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort is implied or offered by Dr. Paster to people submitting questions. Any opinions expressed by Dr. Paster in his columns are personal and are not meant to represent or reflect the views of SSM Health.

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