More and more Americans are turning to the Internet for health information and advice, but cost, cultural relevance, literacy levels, and other issues may limit the ability of low-income consumers to use the Internet effectively. Researchers at the Harlem Health Promotion Center and their community partners are focusing on enhancing the use of the Internet for health promotion by African American and Hispanic consumers. The center will work with community and academic partners to develop and disseminate computer and Internet literacy curricula for community residents, develop a community Web site for the Internet, and work with community partners and advocates to address issues concerning community access to and home ownership of computers.
Initially, the research team will assess current levels of Internet health information-seeking and attempt to understand the logistical, cultural, and psychological factors that may create barriers to residents’ Internet use. Subsequently, African-American and Hispanic adolescents and parents in Harlem will participate in a project to enhance health promotion by using the Internet. The project will determine if use of a culturally sensitive, community health information and decision-support Web site portal improves participants’ ability to seek, find, and use health information from the internet; reduce health risk behaviors; access community health resources; and share health information with family and friends. The Web site is being developed by a team consisting of researchers, the community advisory board, and other community stakeholders. The bilingual (English and Spanish) Web site is expected to house a wealth of information tailored to the beliefs, attitudes, and needs of Harlem’s adolescents and adults. Components will include chat rooms for support groups, clinic appointment and screening reminders, virtual tours of local health facilities, personal risk assessments and information to support behavioral changes, a health services directory, and a directory of community access points for Internet use and support.
Surveys will be used to determine the effects of the Web site on participants’ health knowledge, risk-taking behaviors, health status, awareness and use of health care services, and dissemination of health information within social networks. In the later states of the project, the center will partner with the PRC at the University of South Florida to develop and evaluate a social marketing campaign on Internet health information-seeking for the a broader constituency of consumers in Harlem.