Better eHealth literacy

By Dr Karen Scott
  • Digital technologies and social media are increasingly integrated into all aspects of teenagers’ lives. They can be an excellent source of health information, engaging teenagers in thinking about how to manage their health and encouraging them to establish healthy behaviours. However, these technologies are also frequently used to promote unhealthy products and lifestyles, undermining the health of teenagers.
  • Despite being skilled users of technology, most teenagers are overwhelmed by the volume and inconsistency of health information available online, and struggle to identify trustworthy sources. Also, many have difficulty using online health information to make a decision about whether or not to see a health professional.
  • With better eHealth literacy, teenagers will be able to find, understand, assess and apply the digital health information they need.

WHAT IS IT?

Digital health information plays an important role in the Teenage Decade, supporting the growing autonomy of teenagers, and promoting their capacity to make their own decisions about their health and wellbeing. Teenagers value the accessibility, currency and anonymity of the health content they find online, and the provision of multiple viewpoints, often delivered through candid and authentic first-hand accounts. Often, they are more aware than health professionals of the kind of health information available online for consumers. Teenagers rely on digital health information, even though most claim to be distrustful of it

By supporting their eHealth literacy, we can help teenagers to become better at finding, understanding, assessing and applying trustworthy digital health information. (Relying on Google as a source of health information is problematic, especially given that Google search results can be manipulated through marketing strategies). 

It’s useful to remember that teenagers may find it hard to understand the health information they locate online, even if it is credible, as most health information is not written for a teenage audience. It can be enormously beneficial for teenagers to talk to health professionals about the content they have seen online, and to be pointed towards some of the better information sources.

WHY DOES IT MATTER?

Armed with better eHealth literacy, teenagers will be better equipped to manage their health, make well-informed choices and participate in decision-making. 

Supporting eHealth literacy has the potential to improve prevention and early detection of health problems among all teenagers, but particularly those in rural and remote areas where face-to-face health support is not always easy to access.

WHAT NOW?

We need to acknowledge the positive role digital health information can play, and ensure that eHealth literacy is embedded in health education for young people. 

We also need to ensure that health professionals support young people to develop their eHealth literacy in the Teenage Decade.

SOURCES

Dr Karen Scott

Dr Karen Scott is Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney. She works as an education academic at...