Consumer access to electronic health information is so widespread, health personnel complain about having to compete with Dr. Google. Even care delivery is increasingly reliant on electronic communication thanks to prolific adoption of electronic health records and patient portals. It is easy to forget that access to high quality electronic content is limited to those with the means to access it (internet service, computer or smartphone) and the skills to evaluate, understand and use it (health literacy). Health communicators need to keep this in mind when designing health content for actionability. Be sure to include a phone number in addition to an email address in case consumers have questions.

Electronic health information has several advantages:

  • A great deal of high quality content is available for free, such as MedlinePlus
  • Content can be easily shared with others using a link, or printed.
  • Communications can embed links to additional content in alternative formats (videos, audio clips).
  • Consumers can view information on demand, when there is sufficient privacy.
  • Information can be translated using programs such as Google Translate. Translated content should be viewed with caution as this automated method lacks oversight and may result in the mistranslation of clinical information. Keep in mind that “easy to read” English content does not automatically translate as “easy to read” in other languages. Readability assessment tools are language specific.

Electronic health information may not be preferred by:

  • Consumers who do not have access to electronic devices (computers, smartphones). While public libraries offer free computer access, it may not be located in an area that offers sufficient privacy.
  • Consumers who do not have the technical skills or tools to access it.
  • Consumers who are concerned about privacy. Electronic devices can be vulnerable to hacking. Take care to follow privacy laws when communicating health information electronically, especially personal health information (PHI) that is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Many resources exist to help guide creation and design of health literate electronic resources, including websites.

  • Links to other relevant areas of CHLS site
  • Links to resources

Take a self-guided tour of the Health Literacy Ecosystem

The Health Literacy Ecosystem offers an overview of the skills and knowledge, settings and sources, audiences, and communication formats that are foundational to our field. Navigate within and across spheres, or dive into a topic and connect to resources. We welcome your contributions.