updated 1/13/2005 11:35:38 AM ET 2005-01-13T16:35:38

Seniors with lower income and less education are missing out on the rich online resources available for choosing doctors, prescription drug plans and treatment options, a health care research organization warned in releasing a new survey.

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The Kaiser Family Foundation found that 31 percent of Americans age 65 and older have ever used the Internet. That figure drops to 15 percent among those making less than $20,000 a year and 18 percent among those with a high school degree or less.

"As a society we really haven't focused on that very much," said Vicky Rideout, the study's director. "We focus on kids."

Now that it's becoming increasingly important for seniors to make complicated decisions about health care, policy makers need to figure out how to get more seniors online, she said.

A brochure can't help seniors choose a Medicare drug plan or a doctor the same way an interactive tool can, Rideout said.

The telephone-based survey of 1,450 adults age 50 and older found hope in the next generation: Seventy percent of those age 50-64 have gone online.

Looking for information on prescription drugs, nutrition, cancer and other conditions were among the most common health-related uses, according to the survey, which was conducted March 5-April 18 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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