Digital Literacy as a Social Determinant of Health
In today's digital age, the ability to access, evaluate, and effectively use digital information is crucial for success in various aspects of life. While digital literacy is commonly associated with skills related to technology and communication, its impact extends far beyond mere convenience. It plays a vital role as a social determinant of health, influencing individual well-being, healthcare outcomes, and health equity. It is also important to remember however, greater reliance on digital tools has the potential to increase disparities between those who have skills and access to digital tools and those who do not and thereby widen existing health disparities.
The Link between Digital Literacy and Health:
Digital literacy refers to the skills required to navigate the digital world, including accessing information, evaluating its quality and relevance, and effectively communicating using digital tools. It encompasses a wide range of abilities, from basic computer literacy to critical thinking, information literacy, and digital citizenship. Technological advancements have revolutionized healthcare delivery through e-health and telemedicine. According to a study by Van Deursen and Van Dijk (2019), individuals with higher digital skills are more likely to search for health information online and evaluate its quality effectively.
Addressing the Digital Divide:
Unfortunately, not everyone has equal access to digital literacy resources, creating a digital divide that exacerbates health disparities. Marginalized populations, including low-income individuals, older adults, rural communities, and ethnic minorities, often face barriers to accessing digital technologies and developing digital literacy skills. This digital divide perpetuates health inequities, as those who lack digital literacy may struggle to navigate the healthcare system, access vital information, and receive appropriate care.
To address this challenge, it is essential to prioritize digital literacy as a public health issue. Policymakers, educators, and healthcare providers should collaborate to develop initiatives that promote digital literacy among disadvantaged populations. This includes:
· Providing affordable internet access
· Offering digital skills training programs
· Creating culturally relevant content that meets the specific needs of diverse communities
The WHO has introduced a global strategy on digital health that “will enhance and complement the work of existing and newly created digital health networks . . . to provide normative guidance in digital health, including “through the promotion of evidence-based digital health interventions.””
Promoting digital literacy empowers individuals to access reliable healthcare information, engage in telemedicine services, participate in health promotion initiatives, and advocate for their health needs. It enables individuals to seamlessly schedule virtual appointments, access telemedicine platforms, and efficiently manage electronic health records. These enhanced digital literacy skills serve as a bridge between patients and healthcare providers, making healthcare services more accessible, particularly for marginalized communities. Moreover, digital platforms provide an array of opportunities for health promotion and disease prevention. By harnessing digital literacy, individuals gain the ability to critically analyze health-related content, identify evidence-based practices, and actively engage in online communities that foster healthy behaviors. Digital literacy, therefore, is no longer a luxury but a prerequisite for equitable health outcomes.