The impact of digital inequities on gastrointestinal cancer disparities in the United States

David J. Fei-Zhang, Zorays Moazzam, Aslam Ejaz, Jordan Cloyd, Mary Dillhoff, Joal Beane, David J. Bentrem, Timothy M. Pawlik*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Modern-day internet access and technology usage substantially impacts aspects of surgical care but remain ill-defined for their associations with gastrointestinal-cancer (GIC) outcomes. We sought to develop the Digital Inequity Index (DII), a novel, a self-adapted tool to quantify access to digital resources, to assess the impact of “digital inequity” on GIC care and prognosis. Methods: Adult (20+) patients with gastrointestinal malignancies between 2013 and 2017 were identified from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program database. DII was calculated based on 17 census-tract level variables derived from the American Community Survey and Federal Communications Commission. Variables were categorized as infrastructure-access (i.e., electronic device ownership, broadband type, internet provider availability, income-broadband subscription ratio) or sociodemographic (i.e., education, income, disability status), ranked relative across all US counties, and then averaged into a composite score. The association between DII and surgery receipt, staging, surveillance period, and survival time were assessed with multiple logistic and linear regressions. Results: Among 287 228 patients, increasing DII was associated with increased odds of late-stage disease (highest odds ratio [OR]: 1.08, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.05–1.10 for hepatic) and decreased odds of receiving surgery (lowest OR: 0.94, 95% CI: 0.93–0.96 for hepatic). Higher DII was associated with shorter postoperative surveillance length (largest decrease −20.4% for hepatic) and overall survival length (largest decrease −16.0% for pancreatic). Sociodemographic and infrastructure-access factors contributed equivalently to surveillance time disparities, while infrastructure-access factors contributed more to survival disparities across GIC types. Conclusions: As technology dependence has increased, inequities in digital access should be targeted as a contributor to surgical oncologic disparities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of surgical oncology
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • digital inequity
  • gastrointestinal cancer
  • surgical outcomes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Oncology


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