This article in ICT and Health explains how the digitalization of healthcare brings brand new opportunities for patients. Experts talk about the democratization of healthcare, better access to health services, strengthening prevention and lower costs. On the other hand, many patients don’t know how to use the potential of digital solutions. Will the lack of digital health literacy slow down the transformation in healthcare?
Health literacy is closely linked to literacy and entails the knowledge, motivation and competency to access, understand, appraise and apply information to form judgement and make decision concerning healthcare, disease prevention and health promotion to maintain and promote quality of life during the life course.
This interview with Kristine Sørensen from Global Health Literacy Academy (Denmark), President of the International Health Literacy Association and Executive Chair of Health Literacy Europe will explore these issues.
The digitalization of healthcare is changing the way that patients search for information and interact with doctors. We have got an unlimited access to information, but can we really use these new opportunities? Are we really gaining knowledge that leads to better health?
The digitalization of healthcare is a wonderland of new opportunities. It helps to democratize information in a way which was unknown before. Everyone can search and find information they will need to educate themselves. We have a wealth of opportunities to become enlightened. However, there are many pitfalls. Not all information is reliable. The mass of information is overwhelming, and it is difficult to distinguish what is sound information and what may even be harmful when it comes to health advice. More than ever we need functional, interactive and critical health literacy to access, understand, appraise and apply information to promote our health.
We often hear that digital health can improve access to health services and eliminate inequalities. How would you refer to these hopes?
Digital health is certainly making access to health a lot easier than it was previously. In India, one hospital use WhatsApp to make home consultations. They speak with the patients who are at home. The patients can send photos of their wounds and only when it is necessary are they are asked to come to the hospital for an appointment. In this way, people save money and time and the hospital saves their resources for those who really need them. It also shows that digital solutions are not always expensive solutions. At the same time, there are people who do not benefit from digital advantages. In my view we could start by making free access to the Internet a human right of our times and we could also lower the prices of electronic devices necessary to participate actively in society.
Health literacy can be supported by well-designed digital tools. We have many examples of how a clear and understandable user interface leads to the acceptance of a new mobile health apps. What, in your opinion, is the key factor in creating these kinds of user-friendly solutions?
Simplicity is essential for effective health communication. Plain language is another feature that is underestimated. Testing new tools among people with both high and low health literacy will provide immediate feedback that may enhance usability. Co-production of health assets where citizens are involved from idea generation to the execution of products will be crucial to enhancing people-centred approaches. Lastly, the apps should not only provide information, they should first and foremost stimulate activities to manage health.
Professor Ilona Kickbusch, public health expert, stated: “Health literacy is a critical component of the democratization of health”. What do we have to do to make healthcare democratic?
Recognizing the impact of health literacy will help us to tune in to the needs, dreams and wishes of people and the structure of health services around these indicators rather than only focusing on the productivity and costs of systems. We need to re-orient healthcare with both hearts and minds and give people and patients a voice to tell us what matters most to them. Notably, we need to learn to listen. In the long run, I think that this is the most sustainable approach for the future. I think that health literacy is a disruptive power that will enable us to meet people where they are and, in this way, ensure healthcare for all.