November 15, 2016
Objective: Internet use may affect health and health service use, and is seen as a potential lever for empowering patients, levelling inequalities and managing costs in the health system. However, supporting evidence is scant, partially due to a lack of data to investigate the relationship on a larger scale. This paper presents an approach for connecting existing datasets to generate new insights. Methods: Spatial microsimulation offers a way to combine a random sample survey on Internet use with aggregate census data and other routine data from the health system based on small geographic areas to examine the relationship between Internet use, perceived health and health service use. While health research has primarily used spatial microsimulation to estimate the geographic distribution of a certain phenomenon, this research highlights this simulation technique as a way to link datasets for joint analysis, with location as the connecting element. Results: Internet use is associated with higher perceived health and lower health service use independently of whether Internet use was conceptualised in terms of access, support or usage, and controlling for sociodemographic covariates. Internal validation confirms that differences between actual and simulated data are small; external validation shows that the simulated dataset is a good reﬂection of the real world. Conclusion: Spatial microsimulation helps to generate new insights through linking secondary data in a privacy-preserving and cost-effective way. This allows for better understanding the relationship between Internet use and health, enabling theoretical insights and practical implications for policy with insights down to the local level.
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