Improving Digital Health Literacy
As healthcare systems are providing more services remotely using technology, rural communities will need to
address community needs related to digital health literacy. Digital health literacy describes
the skills necessary to successfully navigate and use digital or electronic health information and patient
resources. Several promising approaches for improving digital health literacy are included below.
Access to and Use of Digital Platforms
This approach focuses on educating individuals about using computers and other mobile devices to access medical
information and interact with healthcare teams. This includes, for example, using electronic patient portals and
technology for telehealth visits. Rural populations, especially people living in geographically remote
locations, face increased digital barriers such as limited access to broadband internet and higher costs
associated with accessing digital services.
Programs that help improve access to technology and educate about best methods for using health information have
shown promise in rural communities. For example, research found providing equitable access to the internet and
paid cellular devices improved educational and health outcomes for youth from seasonal farmworker
families. Educating individuals on how to use computers,
patient portals, and telehealth services to access medical information can improve health outcomes among
rural patients with limited health literacy. It can also help individuals more easily identify trustworthy and
reputable online sources of health information.
There are some technology-based interventions, or eHealth interventions, designed to
help improve health literacy. Commonly, these interventions are delivered by computer and can be tailored for a
variety of formats. These interventions are designed to deliver health education and information and build
individual skills and behaviors. Some of the digital skills that programs can help people learn include:
Accessing and using online medical scheduling platforms to make appointments
Using and navigating electronic health records and patient portals
Receiving text message reminders from healthcare providers
Receiving digital health information instead of handouts (for example, information about medications,
instructions for medication adherence)
Obtaining results of medical or diagnostic tests online
Searching for and evaluating online health information
Designing Health Literate Digital Content
This approach focuses on developing digital content using strategies to incorporate health literacy best
practices. Best practices include using plain language and designing content that is simple and
Health Literacy Online is a research-based guide
by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. It
provides a step-by-step guide to develop clear and accessible digital health content. Rural programs can use the
guide to design user-friendly tools and websites.
For more information about digital health literacy definitions and rural considerations when planning programs,
see A New Era of Health
Literacy? Expanded Definitions, Digital Influences, and Rural Inequities in the Rural Monitor.
Examples of Programs Focusing on Improving Digital Health Literacy
Digital Inclusion and Health Literacy
Resources for Farmworker Health is a North Carolina collaboration between East Carolina University's
Laupus Library, the North Carolina Farmworker Health Program's Internet Connectivity Project, and other
community partners. The project brings health literacy resources and digital access and technology to
migrant and seasonal farmworkers.
The Network of the National Library of Medicine created All of Us Digital Health Literacy, a digital
literacy training to support the health information needs of various communities.
Literacy provides materials such as a free downloadable digital health literacy curriculum including
a slide deck with accompanying script and handouts. These materials can be used by programs who wish to
conduct either virtual or in-person training sessions.
Program Clearinghouse Examples
University of Maryland Horowitz Center for Health
Literacy, with support from the National Institutes of Health, developed a smartphone application
known as HealthyMe/MiSalud.
This app was developed by a research team that worked closely with African American and Spanish-speaking
adults. The app is designed to help users meet their goals for healthy living by finding useful health
information. For example, the app includes a feature to help users understand nutrition labels and
prevention recommendations and find nearby healthcare providers.
Early in the planning stage, organizations should determine what specific technology and resources are needed to
implement a digital health literacy program. Programs using digital platforms, apps, and tools to support
digital health literacy must ensure that these tools can be incorporated across the organization and that
community members can access the technology. This may include access to high-speed internet and use of a mobile
phone, tablet, or computer. Digital health interventions should be designed with the user in mind. They must be
simple to use, have clear instructions, offer content in multiple formats, and be easily accessible. Programs
using digital tools should also try to make them available in multiple languages to meet the needs of the
community. Further, it may be necessary to provide training to both program staff and community members on a new
digital platform or tool.
Resources to Learn More
Inclusive Digital Solutions and Developing Digital Skills
Offers guidelines and recommendations for digital solutions for populations with limited literacy levels and
Organization(s): United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Pearson
Digital and Civic Literacy
Provides digital literacy information and resources for students and teachers including lessons, learning plans,
strategies, videos, webinars, podcasts, and teaching aids. Materials are designed to help distinguish the
difference between accurate and inaccurate information.
Organization(s): Learning for Justice
Inclusion as a Social Determinant of Health
Describes the link between digital literacy and internet connectivity and the social determinants of health
(SDOH). Discusses the importance of access to health tools such as health apps, patient portals, and remote
monitoring devices to improve care.
Author(s): Sieck, C.J., Sheon, A., Ancker, J.S., et al.
Citation: npj Digital Medicine, 4(52)