The Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) has published a US study that considers whether health information technology, such as apps and patient portals, has the potential to create another digital divide.
Approximately one-half of American adults exhibit low health literacy and thus struggle to find and use health information. Low health literacy is associated with negative outcomes including overall poorer health.
Health information technology (HIT) makes health information available directly to patients through electronic tools including patient portals, wearable technology, and mobile apps. The direct availability of this information to patients, however, may be complicated by misunderstanding of HIT privacy and information sharing.
The purpose of this study was to determine whether health literacy is associated with patients’ use of four types of HIT tools: fitness and nutrition apps, activity trackers, and patient portals.
Additionally, the researchers sought to explore whether health literacy is associated with patients’ perceived ease of use and usefulness of these HIT tools, as well as patients’ perceptions of privacy offered by HIT tools and trust in government, media, technology companies, and health care.
Participants were 4,974 American adults (n=2102, 42.26% male, n=3146, 63.25% white, average age 43.5, SD 16.7 years).
Participants completed the Newest Vital Sign measure of health literacy and indicated their actual use of HIT tools, as well as the perceived ease of use and usefulness of these applications. They also answered questions regarding information privacy and institutional trust, as well as demographic items.
Analysis indicated that adequate versus less than adequate health literacy was significantly associated with use of fitness apps, nutrition apps, activity trackers, and patient portals. Additionally, greater health literacy was significantly associated with greater perceived ease of use and perceived usefulness across all HIT tools after controlling for demographics.
The authors conclude that patients with low health literacy were less likely to use HIT tools or perceive them as easy or useful, but they perceived information on HIT as private. They call for more research into how health literacy is related to HIT app adoption and usage.
You can read the full study on the JMIR website.
Mackert M, Mabry-Flynn A, Champlin S, Donovan EE, Pounders K
Health Literacy and Health Information Technology Adoption: The Potential for a New Digital Divide
J Med Internet Res 2016;18(10):e264