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Differences in health literacy and digital health information‑seeking behaviour among Swedes


Swedes with limited health literacy did not access their online health check results to the same extent as people with sufficient health literacy. That is the result of a recently published study in BMC Public Health by Erica Sundell and Åsa Grauman from Centre for Research Ethics and Bioethics together with Josefin Wångdahl from Karolinska Institutet. Differences in health literacy might also lead to unequal access to trustworthy and quality-assured health information.

The World Health Organization defines health literacy as the cognitive and social skills which determine the motivation and ability of individuals to gain access to, understand and use information in ways which promote and maintain good health. With the increasing digital development in health care, it is crucial to analyse how individuals with different health literacy levels access, seek, and use digital health information sources.

The study looked at differences in health literacy in Swedes and how these correlate with the ability to access electronic health check results. They also studied the tendency of the participants to search for health information on the Healthcare Guide 1177, which is an online national health information portal that provides quality-ensured health information to the public. Participants with sufficient health literacy were almost twice as likely to access their electronic health records compared to participants with limited health literacy. Among the participants who searched for information to better understand their test results, individuals with sufficient health literacy were almost three times as likely to use Healthcare Guide 1177.

Erica Sundell. Photo by Marika Ljungberg

The study shows that health literacy matters for health information-seeking behaviour even for highly educated, native Swedes (who were overrepresented among the participants). It contributes to knowledge about how online health services are utilized, showing that they are not reaching those who need them the most.

“This is an important finding, since knowledge regarding health literacy levels in the Swedish general population is scarce”, says Erica Sundell, research assistant at the Centre and first author. “It indicates that limited health literacy needs to be considered when promoting health, and when preventing and treating health problems in Sweden.”

Read the paper here!

By Marika Ljungberg

Last modified: 2024-03-19