How to improve digital health literacy

Nurse using a digital health tablet

In Australia, health services across the country are prioritising the deployment of digital health tools to improve access to health services and drive improvements in patient health outcomes. 

But what can be done to ensure that patients and providers alike have the knowledge, skills and confidence to use these new digital technologies and programs? 

We take a look at some key strategies to improve digital health literacy. 

Key strategies for the health workforce 

According to Australia’s National Digital Health Strategy, there are four strategies to ensure that the country’s workforce can confidently use digital health technologies to deliver health and care.

Help made available – With the right support, healthcare providers will adopt digital health technologies and services if they can be shown how to use them within their healthcare context, and the evidence for doing so. Primary health networks and the regional hospital and health networks will be important partners, as well as the Australian Digital Health Agency. 

Training provided throughout training pathways – Digital health must be embedded through all training pathways, including the tertiary education sector, ensuring students are empowered to confidently and effectively use digital technologies upon graduation. 

Integration into national standards – Integration of digital health into national workforce accreditation needs to be led by the professional associations and workforce accreditation bodies, sensitive to the needs of both technophile and technophobe health professionals. Healthcare providers should have easy access to best practice guidelines, and other supporting resources. 

A network of champions – A network of clinical digital health champions, who understand the benefits of digital health and encourage the up-skilling of the workforce across the health system into the future, is important to build momentum and a critical mass of digital health proponents. 

Elderly couple using a digital health tablet

Key strategies for patients 

Healthcare information and education organisation, Relias Media, has devised seven strategies to help boost patient digital health literacy:

Identify people who need support.
‘Screening’ a patient’s digital literacy – do they regularly use a PC, do they have a smartphone, do they use mobile apps – can help to identify patients who need support and education to use digital technology with confidence. Knowing a patient’s digital health literacy level will inform the type of digital services that can be delivered to them, and if they need additional support to access/use the service. 

Steer people to easier technology.
Depending on a patient’s digital health literacy level, the provider can either direct the patient to a more sophisticated solution eg a useful mobile app, or an alternative low-tech option. Discuss with the patient why the tool is useful, how to use it, and also security issues. 

Always ask patients to describe how they will follow instructions.
This approach helps confirm that the patient understands. Using the teach-back method provides an opportunity to increase patient confidence to use health information technology (HIT) to track healthcare and communicate with providers.  

Use digital solutions to teach the basics.
Managing chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart failure, first requires foundational knowledge, before progressing to more complex solutions. 

Provide hands-on experience for patients and simulation programs for staff.
Case managers can help patients with digital self-care solutions by teaching them how to access the apps on their phones or laptops. They can also learn how to help patients through simulation programs. 

Use new digital technologies to improve well-being and health literacy.
New biometric sensors can detect factors, such as heart rate, respiratory rate, sleep, ECG, gait, temperature, speech, and others, and automatically inform the patient and provider, requiring no digital intervention by the patient. 

Teach staff how to improve virtual visits.
Effective and authentic connection with a clinician during a virtual visit builds patient confidence with technology. If staff know how to get the best out of virtual visits, they will be helping to improve patient digital health literacy levels. 

Learn more about how you can use digital literacy training to support the health information needs of your patients and community:

Visionflex – telehealth solutions for health professionals.