E-Health Literacy Competencies among Undergraduate Health Education Students: A Preliminary Study

By Hanik, Bruce; Stellefson, Michael | International Electronic Journal of Health Education, Annual 2011 | Go to article overview

E-Health Literacy Competencies among Undergraduate Health Education Students: A Preliminary Study


Hanik, Bruce, Stellefson, Michael, International Electronic Journal of Health Education


E-Health Literacy Competencies among Undergraduate Health Education Students

E-health has been a topic of interest in the field of health education since the turn of the 21st century (1-4); yet, a clear, concise definition of e-health does not currently exist. The many definitions that do exist describe e-health as a broad range of electronic applications facilitating healthcare, generally through making use of the confluence that exists between health, technology, and commerce. (4,5) Electronic resources increasingly play a major role in consumer health, with the Internet acting as the primary telecommunications vehicle. (1-3) Despite concerns regarding the quality of online health information, (6) health consumers use the Internet often for health information. It is estimated that more than 113 million American adults accessed and influenced by nearly 70,000 health-related websites yearly. (4,7) Moreover, health information is one of the most investigated topics online (8); eight out of ten Internet users access online for health information, making it the third most popular web endeavor (following email and accessing search engines). (9) This vast use of the Internet to acquire health information has spurred numerous e-health information resources that assist consumers in discovering knowledge that can help promote and sustain personal health. In light of this potential capacity, it is important to understand an individual's ability to make use of available e-health tools and resources available on the Internet. (10)

E-health and the topic of health literacy are two closely related topics that are important within the field of health education. Health literacy has been defined as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. (11) Health literacy is an important skill which enables people to manage their own health within a complex healthcare system. For health education specialists, who are expected to be proficient resource people in health education (13) health literacy is a fundamental competency area. Health education specialists inevitably should become familiar with utilizing electronic resources (e.g., mobile-Internet, smartphones, iPads, etc.) for accessing health information in order to assist in improving health literacy at the individual, community and population level.

Healthy People 2020 has reinforced the importance of health literacy using electronic resources by including multiple objectives that relate to advancing health literacy in an e-health environment, including increasing the proportion of quality, health-related Web sites and the number of online health information seekers who report easily accessing health information. (12) Norman & Skinner (10(p1)) have extended the definition of health literacy to 'e-health literacy' which refers to the ability of individuals to "seek, find, understand, and appraise health information from electronic sources and apply such knowledge to addressing or solving health problems". E-health literacy is unique, in that, it assumes literacy in a variety of diverse areas, including: computer, media, science, numeracy, information, and health. Obtaining health information and using e-health sources includes a variety of competencies, such as: (a) conducting basic and advanced information searches; (b) the application of Boolean operators to limit Internet searches; (c) differentiating between scholarly documents, authoritative sources, periodicals, and primary sources of information; and (d) understanding selected e-health terminology. In order to locate health information using e-health resources, one must conduct appropriate searches using systematic search techniques to locate documents such as abstracts or bibliographies on selected health topics. Search protocols for finding e-health information and criteria for evaluating web sites and documents retrieved are often times implied and not explicitly explained or understood by users. …

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