Driving Digital Health Literacy

By Haley Armstrong and Angela Jonsson

Over the past two years, more of our lives have moved online, and health care is no exception. There has been an explosion of health information and health management tools on the internet. But with so many options, it can be difficult to know where to start — and how to determine the best tools for you. As we look beyond the pandemic, it’s clear that digital health literacy skills are becoming indispensable for patients, families and caregivers.

Driving Digital Health Literacy

As a first step, it’s important to understand what digital health resources are available. However, in a recent survey by Canada Health Infoway (Infoway), only 54 per cent of respondents agreed that, “I know what health resources are available on the internet.” Respondents also expressed doubt about their ability to evaluate the resources they do find. Just over half (51 per cent) agreed that they can tell high quality from low quality health resources on the internet.

Despite this uncertainty, Canadians have a growing appetite for digital health tools and services. In the same Infoway survey, 56 per cent of respondents reported interest in video visits with their heath care provider, despite only 17 per cent having one in the past 12 months. The pandemic prompted many Canadians to try virtual care for the first time, and that increasing awareness may also drive increasing interest, even after the pandemic is over.

However, we also need to ensure that access is equitable. An analysis released earlier this year found that older Canadians show lower digital health literacy scores and use virtual care at lower rates compared to younger Canadians. Conversely, Canadians with higher digital health literacy scores are — perhaps unsurprisingly — more likely to use digital health tools. Factors like geographic location, access to broadband, language barriers and socioeconomic status can also deepen the digital divide.

Bridging these gaps takes careful consideration. While there are digital literacy and health literacy resources available, resources specific to digital health literacy can be harder to find. The Digital Health Learning Program was created to help address this need. Co-designed through focus groups, interview sessions and an advisory committee, it aims to meet patients where they are with practical information about virtual care, health data and proactive health management. For these resources, “meeting patients where they are” doesn’t just mean physically. It means taking their languages, jurisdictions and communities into account as well.

While the Digital Health Learning Program is one step towards increasing digital health literacy rate among Canadians, there is more work to be done. As we celebrate Digital Health Week, let’s listen to the needs of patients, families and caregivers and help everyone to #ThinkDigitalHealth.

Join us at the Infoway Partnership Conference on December 1, 2021 for a full day of Digital Health Week celebrations. Registration is complimentary.

For a deeper dive into digital health literacy, join us at the #HCLDR Twitter chat on Tuesday, Nov. 30 at 8:30 p.m. ET. We’ll be tweeting from the @Infoway account to discuss the following questions:

  • T1: Where do you go to look for trusted information related to your health care? Where SHOULD we go for that information?
  • T2: Do you think your digital health literacy/understanding has changed since COVID began, and has that impacted your interactions with the health system?
  • T3: How can we better support patients, families, and caregivers with respect to improving their digital health literacy...especially those who are underserved?
  • T4: What ideas do you have to get more people on board the health literacy train? What can we say/do to convince them to invest the time to learn about health?

Have a comment about this post? We’d love to hear from you.

About the authors
Haley Armstrong

Haley Armstrong

Haley Armstrong is the Senior Specialist, Engagement for Infoway. In this role, she is responsible for supporting the development of engagement strategies that support collaboration with patients, families, caregivers, clinicians and others. Most recently, Haley has supported the development and execution of the Digital Health Learning Program, aimed at improving digital health literacy of Canadians by providing educational resources to improve their awareness, understanding and ability to access virtual care.

Angela Jonsson

Angela Jonsson

Angela Jonsson serves as Canada Health Infoway’s Senior Director, Stakeholder Engagement. She has worked in increasingly senior positions within all levels of government, member-based associations and educational institutions over the last 10 years including the Toronto District School Board and in the democratic primaries for President Barack Obama.