Strengthening Digital Health Literacy In Society

20 June 2019

Impossible to understand

People who are digital health literate are empowered, able to manage their health, and critically engage in societal health challenges and opportunities. In turn, people who struggle to keep up with technological advancements and pursue low health literacy levels are at risk of health disparities.

To strengthen digital health literacy in the society, we need inclusive digital health services as they can lead to improved prevention, awareness of healthier lifestyle behaviors, and an overall improvement in health outcomes throughout the life-course.

Make a quick reality check! Find the website of your local hospital or primary healthcare center. How easy is it to understand and navigate? Can you find the information relevant to you? Does it use plain language, pictures, and pictograms? Consider other digital platforms – are you able to assess information from social media, influencers, commercials, and other digital stakeholders? Indeed, we are faced with a digital information jungle that is extremely difficult to explore and fully grasp.

Knowledge enhances health (and saves money)

From a societal point of view, digital health is a challenge for millions of patients and citizens. New research reveals that even in a welfare society as Denmark, 4 out of 10 citizens are low on the health literacy spectrum (source: Svendsen et al., 2019). In the UK alone, low health literacy accounts for 3-5% of the total healthcare cost per annum (source: Eichler et al. 2009). Improving health outcomes through an investment in digital health literacy will potentially save billions of Euros. For that alone, decision-makers in health should invest in the win-win situation where people become empowered to increase disease management and self-care in general.

Digital health solutions form the future health outcomes in scales never seen before. To improve health – rather than inducing health inequalities – digital health providers must act. They have to take responsibility and wisely integrate health literacy design, co-creation, and user-involvement in all phases of the design, implementation, and evaluation of the digital services. Specific attention should be given to attend the needs of diverse groups to avoid widening health inequalities.

Digital health solutions form the future health outcomes in scales never seen before.

The Internet presents a tremendous, untapped potential for the public to access health information that can support informed decision-making and capacity building of professionals, patients, and people in general. Notably, health literate digital resources do not only help the disadvantaged but supports and make digital services and solutions easier to reach and apply by everyone. A political, public, and commercial priority of advancing digital health literacy is a golden societal game changer in the quest of improving health for all.

What is health literacy?

Health literacy is closely linked to literacy and entails the knowledge, motivation, and competency to access, understand, appraise and apply information to form a judgment and make a decision concerning healthcare, disease prevention and health promotion to maintain and promote quality of life during the life course.

​Limited health literacy is a neglected public health challenge. It is influenced by personal, situational, and societal factors and influences health service use, health behavior, empowerment, and sustainable living.