How to Test Digital Health Literacy in Older Adult Patients

Administering digital health literacy assessments via the telephone presents an opportunity to understand older patient internet use and online health information seeking, according to a recent study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

More patients, especially those over the age of 50, are using the internet to access information about their own health than ever before. However, the breadth of digital information increases the likelihood that a patient will encounter misinformation. It is thus critical for healthcare professionals to understand the internet use habits and abilities of older patients.

“Greater Internet adoption has increased the availability of health information for consumers, yet disparities in access to relevant online health information persist, especially among users with insufficient skills to discriminate between credible and fraudulent online health information,” the researchers explained.

Administering a patient health literacy assessment is useful for understanding these patient characteristics.

But efforts to obtain answers from older patients often hit roadblocks. Older patients don’t usually like to complete survey items on an electronic form or on a paper questionnaire.

Instead, conducting these surveys via the telephone proves effective, the research team has found.

“Results from this study suggest that administering eHEALS to older adults via telephone produces a reliable measure with scores that possess sufficient construct validity evidence.”

The researchers also pointed out a few specific findings about the patient characteristics tested in eHEALS. Notably, the team found that three scales for eHealth literacy are correlated with one another.

Healthcare professionals must understand patient online search habits and how patients vet their online sources to counter these online health search risks. Providers can then equip patients with better search habits and resources by establishing a baseline assessment about patient digital health literacy.


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