We have just entered 2020, a year that marks the point of arrival of many global and national agendas of research and innovation programmes. Among reviews of the past decade and new predictions for 2025, one thing is clear: digital transformation in healthcare is gathering pace and will continue its rapid and unstoppable course, settling in some countries as an accessible opportunity.
The approval of regulatory paths for digital health, which have spread from the US to Europe in France, UK and Germany, are expected to increase the number of patients and physicians experiencing the availability of new approaches and options in their care pathways. One of the major challenges of the upcoming years will therefore be to enhance the awareness and understanding of digital health (that is, boost digital health literacy) among the various stakeholders, thus creating the conditions for proper adoption.
As in other fields of innovation, the adoption process in the digital healthcare space appears to follow a ‘pulled’ rather than a ‘pushed’ route, driven by technology that rapidly generates applications and need-driven interactions.
Like a comet, the digital health revolution is whizzing through our time, with its iced core of technology igniting and starting to shine, and progressively shedding light and matter behind itself once it enters the orbit of the ‘healthcare solar system’. And, while scientists and experts have the capabilities and tools to spot the core, understand its nature and predict its trajectory, the majority will be able to recognise the comet as such only because of its long and brilliant tail. Within this comet, digital health literacy finds its place in the particles of that tail, in that bright reflection that makes digital health visible, comprehensible and accessible.
Moving away from that metaphor, it remains evident that the degree of digital health literacy – of physicians first and foremost, but also of patients, institutions and payers – can really make the difference between an efficient integration and a missed opportunity.
Digital health literacy must therefore be considered in all respects a primary determinant in the digital transformation of healthcare.
This seems to be an achievable goal, given that digital solutions allow for the delivery of multi-media information, at different reading levels, in multiple languages, and using formal and informal channels and methods.
However, as digital health literacy is an extension of health literacy, it suffers from similar limits and contradictions, and the global scenario of access to contemporary health information is patchy.
On the one hand, people (including physicians) are already very active in searching for information and solutions in the health space, and overall there is an enormous amount of health-related data traffic.
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