The link between health literacy and media literacy
In our media-saturated culture, health literacy has taken on a new meaning in the world of online health information. Although there is an abundance of health information available online, if people don’t know where to find it, what good is it? And if health information is only as trustworthy as its source, what happens if people don’t understand the need to think critically about the information that they find on the Internet? Simply having access to the Internet and having computer and Web skills do not guarantee that a person will be able to evaluate and understand online health information. Even though the Internet has offered us much more access to health information, without the media literacy skills needed to find information and interpret it correctly, many people are still at a disadvantage.
People trust what they read online
From my own experience, I have realized that online information is not always useful or credible. And depending on the subject, sometimes I've had to sort through a lot of content to find what I’m looking for. But fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to build the media literacy skills needed to access health information and, more important, convert that information into knowledge that I can apply to my own health circumstances. But research shows that many people do not have these skills. Many people consistently believe what they read online, regardless of the credibility of the content and source.1 In fact, a Pew Internet report stated that 72% of health seekers said you can believe all or most online health information, and 69% said they had not seen any wrong or misleading health information on the Internet.1
This type of trust in online information invites the need for media literacy skills. By definition, media literacy consists of someone being able to2:
- Recognize when information is needed
- Locate the right information
- Critically analyze the content
- Understand what actions to take
Ways to increase media literacy
So what can be done to increase media literacy skills? Well, one idea is to empower healthcare providers to help patients’ improve their media literacy skills. Currently, this type of education does not seem to be taking place. In fact, some research shows that providers do not routinely assess patients’ use and evaluation of online health information.3 And only 22% of patients reported that a healthcare provider had suggested an Internet Web site to them.3 Assessment of patients’ knowledge is a key aspect of clinical practice. If providers routinely asked patients about any information found online, it would help providers better understand patients’ knowledge level and provide an opportunity to clarify or correct any misinformation. But healthcare providers should not only be aware of the information their patients are currently reading online but also help patients find credible sources and interpret the information with them.
From this type of exchange, patients will build valuable skills to manage their own health conditions and be able to apply these media literacy skills to aspects of their lives outside of healthcare.
1. Glinert L. Prescription drug brand Web sites: guidance where none exists. Inov Pharm. 2010;1(1):1-15.
2. Levin-Zamir D, Lemish D, Gofin R. Media health literacy (MHL): development and measurement of the concept among adolescents. Health Educ Res. 2011;26(2):323-335.
3. Gilmour JA, Scott SD, Huntington N. Nurses and Internet health information: a questionnaire survey. J Adv Nurs. 2008;61(1):19-28.
This blog is brought to you by HealthEd as part of our commitment to Health Literacy Month ... and to creating a healthier world. We are excited to share with you a series of tools, resources, and thought-provoking ideas. We hope you will join the conversation. Visit our health literacy page on HealthEd.com, watch for our blog updates, and follow us on Twitter.
Tara Rice, MPH
Manager, Health Education