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Digital health | Principles for enhancing digital health literacy

Updated: May 26, 2021

Digital transformation is rapidly taking on every aspect of our lives including our health. There are many new opportunities offered by digital technology to identify, manage and deliver healthcare. In fact, the importance of digital technologies is becoming more apparent in the current pandemic circumstances. Suitably, they can possibly change healthcare systems in manners that may add to better health outcomes. From prevention and self-management, to knowledge and health data sharing, curative and palliative care.




Nonetheless, the outcomes of digital health technologies differ considerably with each environment and individual, stressing the impact they can bring. We continue to see the rapid growth of these technologies in our healthcare environments but on the other side of the coin, a great deal of the end-users find it difficult to accept and adopt them. This may include the healthcare workforce, care givers, patients, investors and developers. The positive outcomes of digital health technology rely greatly on whether the targeted individual can actually use it. Digital health innovations can serve as a risk to health equity particularly to the digitally illiterate. Hence the success of such innovations necessitates a good understanding of how and when to use them to decrease the digital health disparity.


Digital health literacy is 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[1].


Today, digital literacy is practically as important as other conventional skills. Digital health literacy is influenced by socio-economic, cultural, environmental, and individual factors[2]. Therefore, thorough and inclusive approaches are needed to address digital health literacy particularly in underserved communities, the elderly and people with disabilities. To enhance digital health equity, I have developed a set of principles (4C's) that can be used to guide the design and implementation of digital health innovations to shorten the digital skills learning curve for the end-user.


1. Collaboration- Innovating with the end-user in mind is a vital to ensuring the solution has value to them. From need assessment to product development, the importance of engaging the end-user cannot be stressed enough. In fact, this is probably the first step towards digital health literacy. Engaging and empathizing with the end-user makes acceptance and adoption easier as they get to understand the solution better and feel the value it brings.


2. Comprehension- This refers to the ability to deduce implicit and explicit information. For an individual to better understand what is being implied, it is crucial to create simple and inclusive content that the end-user can relate to. The content must be in a language the user understands such as translations to local language, options for people with disabilities and using the right terminologies for the right target group. To expound this point further, let us go back to the basics of comprehension:

  • Literal: To ease learning digital health skills, the approach needs to be created in a way that the user can follow the actual intention of what is being communicated.

  • Inferential: When the user can follow the literal meaning of what they need to learn, they can build and draw conclusions on the basis of evidence and reasoning

  • Evaluative: The ability to evaluate the digital innovation is important to form an idea of the value of the innovation. This way, the end user can gauge the relevance of the solution and how it can impact them.

  • Applied: This simply means the user now understands how and when to use the innovation. Usually this step implies that the user is ready to comfortably use the solution with minimum to no assistance.


3. Complexity- Simpler solutions require less complex skill learning. But the implementation of digital health innovation is a repetitive process that requires intricate interactions and investments as the healthcare system is complex in nature. In this context, complexity equals comprehensive solutions offering more definite value on health outcomes and user friendliness.


4. Correlation- 1. Vertical solutions often focus on fewer patient and healthcare provider needs. By integrating digital tools, we are not only improving the communication between the two parties but also offering a comprehensive solution to multiple issues. For example, connecting a self-management mental health tool with a knowledge and teleconsultation platform makes it easier for the patient to monitor their status and analyze patterns. They can communicate and share their data with their doctor whenever necessary, who in turns can offer treatment accordingly in a seamless manner. The efficiency of the care flow will directly improve the quality of care provided. In turn, the willingness to use digital innovations increases making it easier to learn the skills to use them.


Digital health innovations, when designed resolutely and applied in a cost-effective manner, lead to better health outcomes and more sustainable healthcare systems. Though a clear definition of digital health literacy is essential, additional efforts are needed to identify more effective ways to build more digitally literate communities so as to achieve digital health equity.

[1] https://www.who.int/global-coordination-mechanism/working-groups/digital_hl.pdf [2] 5. http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/newsroom/cf/dae/document. cfm?doc_id=5170




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