Voorhees College Students Teach South Carolina Seniors to Access Health Information Using Computers
Staff at the Center of Excellence in Rural and Minority Health, a project of Voorhees College in Denmark, S.C., taught seniors from three rural and impoverished counties how to use computers and access health information databases. Funds were also used to purchase and donate computers to two participating centers.
During the grant period, project staff from the Center of Excellence:
- Provided 12 hours of instruction to 37 seniors on how to use computers and access health information databases.
- Trained 12 Voorhees College students to provide one-on-one support to the seniors during the training sessions.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provided $50,000 from May 2002 through August 2005 for this unsolicited grant.
Although people age 65 and over are the fastest growing segment of computer users, three-quarters of Americans over age 50 are fearful of, and have little interest in using, the Internet, according to research published in the Gerontologist and the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Lack of training opportunities, lack of access to computers and concern about confidentiality all contribute to the failure of seniors to exploit computer technology to secure health information.
The mission of the Voorhees College Center of Excellence in Rural and Minority Health, established in 2002, is to improve access to quality health care in nearby rural minority communities and to reduce health disparities by making health information more readily available. Computer technology is a central component in its efforts.
The goal of this project was to train mature adults in basic computer literacy and the use of the Internet to improve their access to health information. Voorhees staff also designed the project to foster social connection between seniors and the young adults who helped train them and to interest young people in pursuing careers in gerontology with underserved populations.
Most of the participating seniors were African Americans from poor, rural areas who had not graduated from high school.
The project was originally designed to operate at an adult education center in Orangeburg County, S.C. However, the county was far from Voorhees College and the staff at the senior centers that would have participated were not enthusiastic about the program. RWJF approved a change of location to Bamberg County, and later senior centers in Barnwell and Allendale counties became involved as well.
Nine months after the RWJF grant began, the Center of Excellence received a $99,000 grant from the National Library of Medicine to establish a research and medical information center and to offer training to more local people.
The project generated the following results:
- Some 37 seniors recruited from state-run senior centers in three counties received 12 hours of computer instruction over six weeks. Seniors first learned to navigate the Internet and then to access specific National Library of Medicine (NLM) databases, including Medline and NIHseniorhealth.gov. The computer courses were taught by Bernard Moses, Ph.D., an associate professor of sociology at Voorhees College, who scheduled three courses, one in each county:
- Sixteen seniors from the Bamberg County Senior Citizens Center attended classes at Voorhees College.
- Twelve seniors from the Barnwell County Senior Citizens Center and nine seniors from the Allendale County Senior Citizens Center attended classes at local middle schools that had their own computer facilities.
- Project staff recruited and trained 12 students enrolled in nursing and social science programs at Voorhees College who were paid to provide one-on-one support to seniors during the classes. Students first attended two one-hour training sessions led by Moses to learn about gerontology, the physical limitations of seniors (such as hearing and vision problems) and teaching skills. Under the NLM grant, many students were also trained to navigate NLM health databases and to guide others in their use.
- Voorhees donated two computers apiece to the Barnwell and Bamberg senior centers. Technology support personnel at Voorhees made sure the computers were up and running. There were not enough funds to purchase computers for Allendale.
- Seniors showed significant improvement in computer knowledge after completing the course. On a pre-test questionnaire, seniors correctly answered seven of 15 questions designed to gauge their familiarity with computer terms (such as download, mouse, CPU and keyboard). On the post-test questionnaire, they answered 12 questions correctly, a 72 percent increase. After the course, at least two participants purchased computers and others were using computers available at public facilities.
- Students found the opportunity to work with the seniors meaningful and enriching, according to informal exit interviews. They also indicated that they had become more sensitive to the needs of seniors. Several expressed an interest in working in a health-related profession with underserved populations, although it is too soon to know whether this will occur.
- Project staff described their work on the RWJF and National Library of Medicine projects to representatives from historically African-American colleges at an NLM meeting in Bethesda, Md., in April 2004.
- Accommodate the preferences of participants, rather than imposing rules that may create barriers. At first, the computer training was scheduled in the morning, but seniors wanted to continue attending senior centers during the day. Project staff members rearranged their schedules so that they could offer training in the evening. (Project Director/Davis)
- Consider transportation issues when developing projects in poor rural areas. Many seniors were unable to arrange transportation to Voorhees College, which for some was about 12 miles away. Offering training at nearby schools allowed more people to attend. (Project Director/Davis)
- College students can serve as effective trainers in programs for seniors. However, a careful selection process and adequate training are important. (Project Director/Davis)
- School districts are useful and willing partners in programs aimed at seniors. Schools have resources, such as available space and computers, that they are often willing to make available to seniors in the evenings. As taxpayers, it is appropriate for seniors to benefit from those resources. (Project Director/Davis)
AFTER THE GRANT
The computer training program ended with the grant. The senior citizen centers in Bamberg and Barnwell counties, which received donated computers, are training additional seniors in their use. Project staff hope to encourage Voorhees College to donate older computers to senior centers as they are replaced.
GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION
Using Computer Technology to Improve Rural Seniors' Access to Health Care Information
Voorhees College Center of Excellence in Rural and Minority Health (Denmark, SC)
Dates: May 2002 to August 2005
Leroy Davis, Ph.D.
Report prepared by: Nanci Healy
Reviewed by: Karyn Feiden
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Anne F. Weiss