Digital Health Literacy: Separate Fact from Fiction

In a world where patients increasingly seek health information online, questions arise as to the quality of the source and content of the resources. Are patients able to navigate the internet and interpret information in a beneficial way? Are they looking in the right places and finding the right type of content and resources? Are they replacing doctor visits with a simple “Google search”?

These types of questions continue to resurface as we recognize Health Literacy Month. Some resources like this guide for healthy web surfing encourage patients to be cautious when using the internet as an educational tool. Even though we don’t have answers to ALL digital health literacy questions, we CAN begin to separate some facts from fiction.

Test your knowledge with the following statements from a recent SurroundHealth article by guest author, Kevin Purcell:

Fact or fiction:

People with limited literacy skills are generally unwilling to use the Web to access health information.

This is fictional. More often than not, poorly designed Web sites—more than limited literacy skill—contribute to users’ challenges online. Simple navigation and clear content can help adults with limited literacy skills find, understand, and use health information on a Web site.

Fact or fiction:

People with limited literacy skills avoid searching.

This is factual. These users prefer to browse topics by using an alphabetical list (even if the list is long). Web sites should include both a search function and another way to browse the content, such as an A to Z list.

Fact or fiction:

People with limited literacy skills tend to view screen content in a random, erratic pattern.

This is fictional. People with limited literacy skills tend to have a narrow field of view. In addition, they usually don’t scroll. As a result, they see only the content in the center of the screen. It’s important to keep key text above the fold (where it can be seen without scrolling) when possible. In addition, use only left and center navigation elements.

For more digital health literacy “myth-busters,” check out the full article & stay tuned for more health literacy resources all this month!

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