Study Confirms Viability Of Digital Literacy Evaluation Tool

A recent study published in JMIR Formative Research developed and analyzed a three-item screening questionnaire to measure digital literacy across different demographics. Experts believe that this tool may be used to identify those who would not stand to gain from virtual care services provided.

As a consequence of the nature of the COVID-19 crisis, the use of virtual care modalities such as telehealth, mobile health, and patient portals grew exponentially. However, concerns have been raised about the issue of digital illiteracy. To evaluate the legitimacy of these concerns, researchers examined the efficacy of a tool that measures digital health literacy. Study participants were caregivers of children receiving treatment at a pediatric clinic who completed the survey via telephone or the internet. 508 people took part in the study, and approximately 89% of them were women. The participant age was 34.7 years on average. 45% of respondents had a high school diploma or less, and approximately half,  identified English as their primary language. 5.9% claimed they did not have access to the internet, 4.9% indicated they did not possess a smartphone, 37.6% said they did not own a laptop, 78.9% stated they did not own a desktop computer. Approximately 41% of survey participants stated they had never used a health app.

Following the completion of a exploratory factor evaluation, the three components of the Digital Health Literacy Scale were identified:

  • I can set up a video chat using my cell phone, computer, or another electronic device on my own (without asking for help from someone else)
  • I can use applications/programs on my cell phone, computer, or another electronic device on my own (without asking for help from someone else)
  • I can solve or figure out how to solve basic technical issues on my own (without asking for help from someone else)

The researchers discovered that the scale was positively correlated with income and education.  Respondents who spoke Arabic or Spanish scored lower than English speakers, while those who did not own a smartphone or laptop computer scored worse than those who did. The researchers contend that the screening tool can offer extra support to digital health service providers to identify patients with poor digital health literacy. However, the researchers did note limitations to the study. Particularly in relation to the cross-sectional nature of the data, the younger data cohort, and the limited diversity of language spoken by patients.