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Keywords:

  • community;
  • participatory;
  • health;
  • empowerment;
  • technology

OBJECTIVE: To determine whether access to health information via in-home Internet technology can positively influence empowerment among residents of a low-income urban community.

DESIGN: In-home Internet access and training were provided to volunteers, who, along with a comparison group, were interviewed prior to and 1 year after initiation of the program. Community-based participatory research methods were used to design and implement the intervention.

SETTING: A 57-block area on the West Side of Chicago.

PATIENTS/PARTICIPANTS: Twenty-five community residents completed all phases of the technology intervention. Thirty-five randomly selected neighbors of these residents served as the comparison group.

INTERVENTIONS: Members of the intervention group received Internet access via WebTV, training, technical support, and access to a community specific health-oriented web page during the course of the study.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Intervention group members were similar to comparison group members in terms of empowerment at baseline. After receiving Internet access and training, empowerment related to health decision-making improved significantly in the intervention group. Similar changes did not occur in the comparison group. Affinity for and appreciation of information technology also increased in the intervention group but not in the comparison group. As a result, differences in attitudes toward technology increased between the 2 groups over time.

CONCLUSIONS: Using community-based participatory research methods, we found that Internet access to community-specific and general health information can lead to increased empowerment and appreciation of information technology. These benefits accrued among the intervention group but not among a random group of their neighbors.