Digital Health Literacy: The New Normal

by Michele Erikson, BA

I was at an NBA game on Valentine’s Day when my stomach began to rumble — the hungry kind of rumble, which is far better than the other kind of stomach rumble. I can usually fix this with a stroll up to concessions and the resignation that I will have to pay a ridiculous amount of money for a brat, burger, or slice of pizza.

But this time, I found empty counters with lots of signs promoting the team’s concession app for downloading and preordering food for contactless pickup. Hmmm … I thought about the process of online ordering and walked the venue full circle to avoid any more technological duties for the day. Not a lot of choices for my rumbling belly, though.

This being one of my first indoor public venues since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I was grateful, no doubt, for all the safety precautions, mandated masks, and limited human contact. I wondered, however, what I would have done if I had left my phone at home. (I was later reminded by my millennial offspring that only boomers do that.)

The new normal has arrived, and it requires mad digital skills.


This includes smart phones in hand most hours of the day, preordering, contactless pickups, online signups for more reliable PCR tests, online signups for vaccinations, scanning QR codes everywhere, telehealth visits, online health portals, etc. And, for many of us, this is on top of being in online meetings most of the day looking at a screen.

To the average boomer, this can be challenging, but certainly doable. However, every time technology, reading, analysis, and critical choices collide and require, in an instant, our response, I can’t help but wonder: How do people with little of these skills adapt, engage, communicate, and not become hungry or unhealthy because of what is required now to stay in the game? How do they do it?

What is the new normal? And where in healthcare will we see it play out the most? Wisconsin Health Literacy will be addressing these key questions at the 2022 Wisconsin Health Literacy Summit, aptly titled: Embracing Health Literacy in the New Normal: Digital Communications, Telehealth, Health Insurance, and Health Equity.

Come learn with us at the Wisconsin Health Literacy Summit.
wisconsin summit

We are excited to be planning an in-person Health Literacy Summit! We put much thought and consideration into making sure it’s an event people can come to and learn, network, and take away concrete tools, evidence-based best practices, and resources they can implement the day they return home. Most importantly, we want to make sure you can do all this and feel safe too. With over 78% of the county’s population vaccinated, mask mandates, and social distancing, we feel encouraged.

The four tracks of the Health Literacy Summit address pandemic-era perspectives on critical areas of health and how we access this information and apply it in daily life.

Let’s talk about digital communications. 

The Health Literacy Summit offers the opportunity to learn from Dr. Jorge Rodriquez, a digital health equity researcher and hospitalist in the Division of General Internal Medicine and Primary Care at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He will share his passion for how medicine, social justice, and technology intersect. We will learn about existing digital health disparities, opportunities to bridge these gaps, and why digital inclusion matters for healthy communities. This session will address one of the bigger challenges in health information access, the patient portal. It will demonstrate how to build health literacy, English language acquisition, and digital fluency using patient portal practice.

Telehealth is here to stay, and so is digital health literacy.

Telehealth was never easy. The digital literacy skills needed to connect to your doctor online can be daunting to anyone. Add in the challenges of signing up for or logging in to your patient portal and completing several screens of health information before you can even click “connect.” The demands placed on patients are increasing, and we must be ready to increase supports for them to meet these challenges. As health literacy intersects more and more with the digital divide, we must be thoughtful and strategic to use technology to achieve health equity and not further widen the divide.

Communicating about science and COVID are part of the new normal.

The challenges of addressing misinformation and communicating clearly about science have come to a head during the pandemic. Our Pre-Summit will focus on addressing science, health, and digital literacy in community outreach and education about the COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, physician and host of American Dissected, will share a deeper perspective on science as an evolving process and not a body of knowledge. In addition, you will get a chance to hear from three community organizations who addressed the growth of misinformation in 2021, as well as network with others doing COVID community outreach initiatives. The Pre-Summit sessions are free, but registration is required.

Health literacy includes health equity, access, and understanding what you signed up for.

Whether it is your health insurance or public health messaging, the new normal requires more individual capacity than ever before in our history to find, understand, communicate, and act on health information and services. The pandemic has revealed that this capacity is limited by systems that reinforce inequalities impacting access to and quality of care. Thus, all work must be done through a health equity lens. Our opening keynote speaker, Emma Andrews (vice president of global patient advocacy at Pfizer), will apply this lens to the future of health literacy. In addition, Kevin Moore, the CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Wisconsin, will highlight the intersections of health insurance literacy and health equity.

The new normal is having an impact on healthcare in many ways. Attending the Wisconsin Health Literacy Summit will give attendees a jumpstart to learning about the many tools, resources, and evidence-based practices that will be necessary in providing health literate and health equitable care. Summit registration is open, and early-bird rates continue through March 14. We hope to see you in Madison Wisconsin, April 4–6.

About the Author

Michele's headshot

Michele Erikson has been involved with adult literacy for over 30 years. She’s gone from volunteer tutor and board chair to workforce development director, English language instructor, and executive director at Wisconsin Literacy, Inc., where she is supporting, developing, and advocating for 70 community-based literacy organizations statewide. 

In 2010, Wisconsin Health Literacy, a division of Wisconsin Literacy, Inc., was launched under her leadership. It continues at a local, regional, and national level to deliver educational health workshops and provide services to healthcare professionals.


Permanent Hyperlink to Share