Low health literacy a potential hurdle to consumer HIT adoption

EHR patient

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Low health literacy may pose a barrier to adoption of health IT, as well as perceptions of ease of use and usefulness of such tools, new research out of the University of Texas at Austin finds.

For the study, researchers asked 4,974 adults about their experience and perceptions for four types of health IT tools: fitness and nutrition apps, activity trackers and patient portals. They also gauged participants' perceptions of privacy offered by the tools, as well as their trust in institutions such as government, media and healthcare.

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Not surprisingly, users with lower health literacy were less likely to use these tools, according to the research published online in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. It echoes previous research indicating that the poor may need extra help with online health resources.

Greater health literacy also was significantly associated with perceived ease of use and usefulness for these tools. The researchers noted that designers often fail to consider patients’ limitations when creating health IT tools, and a focus on design and usability for those with lower health literacy would benefit all users.

Those with lower health literacy also perceived the tools to afford greater privacy protections than other groups, which prompted the researchers to call for more education about the tools’ inherent risks.

And while those with lower health literacy were less trustful of government and media than others, they were more trustful of healthcare providers. That suggests that creators of these tools might be more successful with adoption among low-health-literacy populations by partnering with a healthcare organization.  

One of the primary limitations of the study, however, was that it involved an online survey, which meant participants had to be at least a bit tech savvy to participate. That means the true digital divide might be even more pronounced, the authors conceded.

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