OBJECT - The Internet and social media are powerful disseminators of medical information, providing new portals for patient care. The authors of this study evaluated current technology hardware, Internet, and social media use and their socioeconomic relationships among caregivers of children with hydrocephalus.
METHODS - A written survey was completed in the neurosurgical clinics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham by 300 parents of children with shunted hydrocephalus between October 26, 2010, and July 26, 2011.
RESULTS - Computer use (94.6%), Internet use (91.7%), smartphone use (56.9%), and Internet research on hydrocephalus (81.9%) were prevalent. However, for each of these four utilizations there was significantly lower access by caregivers of minority races (p = 0.04, 0.03, 0.002, and < 0.0001, respectively), lower income (p = 0.02, 0.01, < 0.0001, and < 0.0001, respectively), and lower level of education (p = 0.001, 0.002, < 0.0001, and 0.001, respectively). Personal use of social media was prevalent (95.1% of all Internet users) with use being more prevalent among less-educated than higher-educated caregivers (p = 0.017). Hydrocephalus-related social media use (59.5% of Internet users) was not associated with socioeconomic factors. For hydrocephalus education on the Internet, caregivers chose information websites such as Wikipedia or the Hydrocephalus Association as preferred platforms; these preferences were followed by use of social media websites. Facebook and YouTube were the preferred social media platforms for personal and hydrocephalus-related use. Parents indicate moderate skepticism about the trustworthiness of the Internet; only 21.7% always trust the online sources. Most parents (89.8%) say that they would visit neurosurgeon-recommended websites. Of Internet-using caregivers, 28.6% use the Internet or social media to find hydrocephalus support groups, and 34.8% have used the Internet to communicate with other caregivers who have children with similar conditions.
CONCLUSIONS - Technology hardware, the Internet, and social media are widely used with some skepticism by parents of children with shunted hydrocephalus. Caregivers are interested in physician-recommended Internet resources. Socioeconomic factors including race, income, and level of education reveal a disparity in access to some of these resources, although all groups have relatively high use. Unlike typical technology use, social media use is breaking down the digital divide among ethnic and socioeconomic groups.