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Health literacy concerns the ability to access, understand, appraise, and apply information to make informed decisions about health.

Covid-19: Digital Health Literacy Is A Key To Saving Time, Costs And Lives

The outbreak of coronavirus has reinforced the importance of health literacy to public health. More than a third of populations are at risk of having problematic health literacy, according to European research. People with low health literacy are more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. When you don't understand the details, the misinformation quickly spreads, and you can make bad decisions that impact your health and the safety of those around you.

In light of the current outbreak, new innovations are developed or adapted to increase people’s digital health literacy enabling them to seek, find, understand, and use health information from electronic sources and apply the knowledge gained to addressing or solving a health problem.

Video-consultations: Primary care has seen a surge in the implementation of video-consultations to avoid contagion. The online consultations have helped to enhance the digital infrastructure and transform the service delivery of the health system in a short time.

Apps: A plethora of apps are developed to support peoples’ needs. The coronavirus-app, for example, provides an up-to-date overview of the cases worldwide. Group video platforms are on the rise, such as Zoom for work and the HouseParty-app, which engages people socially why staying at home during the pandemic.

Digital humans: Sophie, is an example of a digital human, tasked with educating people on coronavirus. She is a chatbot designed as a free public health advisor updating on the latest news and guidance, while providing real-time advice on how to stay safe, based on trusted information. Using artificial intelligence means that people can get access to thousands of trusted answers quickly. Digital humans are ‘always-on,’ regardless of demand, and can be accessed on any channel and at any time. The use of chatbots helps to relieve pressure from the fragile health system infrastructure in the time of the pandemic.

Previously driven by digital stakeholders, now health professionals and patients use digitalization to protect health

Data donors: Building on people’s power and wisdom of the crowd studies have quickly been designed to capture the symptoms and the lived experience of people during the time of the outbreak. Concrete examples include FasterThanCorona in Europe and Beatcovid19 in Australia. By asking people to donate personal data and time to the common good, these studies aim to provide new insights about the coronavirus by tracking the development of the outbreak while at the same time guiding people to sources of trustworthy information such as official corona websites and hotlines.

Previously, digitization was pulled by the digital stakeholders; now, there is a push from health professionals and patients to use digital means to protect health. The rapid transformation towards digitization of health shows that digital health literacy is essential for saving time, costs, and lives.

Yet, it still requires a dignified and systematic approach from the public and private sector to match people’s health literacy needs by making information immediately accessible, understandable, and applicable. While serving the public good in the name of the coronavirus outbreak, the challenges remain on how we safeguard the data protection, include the most vulnerable in our societies, and engage people in behavioural change such as keeping physical distance, staying at home, and washing hands. The ‘infodemic’ on the Internet poses a severe threat to people’s health and safety when it comes to the spread of fake news. By spreading the word, not the virus, we can empower people with health literacy to beat coronavirus in their local communities as well as in their digital communities.


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