The World Health Organization defines digital health literacy as the ability to seek, find, understand, and appraise health information from electronic sources and apply the knowledge gained to addressing or solving a health problem. Health outcomes improve as digital health literacy improves, but it’s not an easy course; challenges from limited or no Internet access and rudimentary computer and reading skills to misleading and biased online information are constant. Both care and education content providers can play a crucial role in addressing these hurdles.
What can patient education providers do?
Produce and continually audit education or use a vendor who only provides evidence-based, regularly reviewed education; never use opinion pieces.
Include video; studies show video is a preferred method of issuance and, more importantly, results in improved retention.
Present instruction in a short and concise manner, using simple language.
Use storytelling to increase engagement and relatability.
Supply free materials to underserved communities or during times of urgency, like during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Offer material in multiple languages and closed captioning for video.
What can providers do?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends using a universal precautions approach; assume all patients are at risk of not understanding education and instruction.
Direct patients to trustworthy resources.
Listen for an opportunity to help patients overcome possible hurdles as they work to reach competent digital health literacy:
Simplify and personalize the delivery of print and video education
Share free community resources for Internet and computer training
Follow up to confirm compliance and engagement
Reiterate the benefits of active patient participation in their health and wellness
The Wellness Network developed a series of patient portal educational resources designed to help patients navigate the healthcare system. This series includes essential tips to help patients connect with their providers through the portal, find test results, and more. View a sample of these resources here.
Investing in digital health literacy will increase the likelihood patients will fully understand and comply with orders, be satisfied with their healthcare providers, and find themselves in better health.