Health Informatics Literacy Definition Essay


Use health communication strategies and health information technology to improve population health outcomes and health care quality, and to achieve health equity.


Ideas about health and behaviors are shaped by the communication, information, and technology that people interact with every day. Health communication and health information technology (IT) are central to health care, public health, and the way our society views health. These processes make up the ways and the context in which professionals and the public search for, understand, and use health information, significantly impacting their health decisions and actions.

The objectives in this topic area describe many ways health communication and health IT can have a positive impact on health, health care, and health equity. They include:

  • Supporting shared decision-making between patients and providers
  • Providing personalized self-management tools and resources
  • Building social support networks
  • Delivering accurate, accessible, and actionable health information that is targeted or tailored
  • Facilitating the meaningful use of health IT and the exchange of health information among health care and public health professionals
  • Enabling quick and informed responses to health risks and public health emergencies
  • Increasing health literacy skills
  • Providing new opportunities to connect with culturally diverse and hard-to-reach populations
  • Providing sound principles in the design of programs and interventions that result in healthier behaviors
  • Increasing Internet and mobile access

Why Are Health Communication and Health Information Technology Important?

Effective use of communication and technology by health care and public health professionals can bring about an age of patient- and public-centered health information and services.1,2 By strategically combining health IT tools and effective health communication processes, there is the potential to:

  • Improve health care quality and safety
  • Increase the efficiency of health care and public health service delivery
  • Improve the public health information infrastructure
  • Support care in the community and at home
  • Facilitate clinical and consumer decision-making
  • Build health skills and knowledge

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Understanding Health Communication and Health Information Technology

All people have some ability to manage their health and the health of those they care for. However, with the increasing complexity of health information and health care settings, most people need additional information, skills, and supportive relationships to meet their health needs.

Disparities in access to health information, services, and technology can result in lower usage rates of preventive services, less knowledge of chronic disease management, higher rates of hospitalization, and poorer reported health status.3,4

Both public and private institutions are increasingly using the Internet and other technologies to streamline the delivery of health information and services.5This results in an even greater need for health professionals to develop additional skills in the understanding and use of consumer health information.6

The increase in online health information and services challenges users with limited literacy skills or limited experience using the Internet. For many of these users, the Internet is stressful and overwhelming—even inaccessible.7 Much of this stress can be reduced through the application of evidence-based best practices in user-centered design.8

In addition, despite increased access to technology, other forms of communication are essential to ensuring that everyone, including non–web users, is able to obtain, process, and understand health information to make good health decisions.9 These include printed materials, media campaigns, community outreach, and interpersonal communication.

Emerging Issues in Health Communication and Health Information Technology

During the coming decade, the speed, scope, and scale of adoption of health IT will only increase. Social media and emerging technologies promise to blur the line between expert and peer health information. Monitoring and assessing the impact of these new media, including mobile health, on public health will be challenging.10

Equally challenging will be helping health professionals and the public adapt to the changes in health care quality and efficiency due to the creative use of health communication and health IT. Continual feedback, productive interactions, and access to evidence on the effectiveness of treatments and interventions will likely transform the traditional patient-provider relationship. It will also change the way people receive, process, and evaluate health information. Capturing the scope and impact of these changes—and the role of health communication and health IT in facilitating them—will require multidisciplinary models and data systems.

Such systems will be critical to expanding the collection of data to better understand the effects of health communication and health IT on population health outcomes, health care quality, and health disparities.


1Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. Federal Health IT Strategic Plan 2015–2020 [Internet]. Washington, DC: Department of Health and Human Services; 2015. Available from:

2Riccardi L, Mostashari F, Murphy J, Daniel JG, Siminerio EP. National Action Plan to Support Consumer Engagement via E-Health. Health Affairs. 2013 Feb;32(2):376–84. Available from:

3Berkman ND, Sheridan SL, Donahue KE, Halpern DJ, Viera A, Crotty K, et al. Health Literacy Interventions and Outcomes: An Updated Systematic Review. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment No. 199. Prepared by RTI International–University of North Carolina Evidence-based Practice Center under contract No. 290-2007-10056-I. AHRQ Publication Number 11-E006. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; 2011 Mar. Available from:

4Patel V, Barker W, Siminerio E. Disparities in Individuals’ Access and Use of Health IT in 2014 [Internet]. ONC Data Brief, no. 34. Washington, DC: Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology; 2016 Feb. Available from:

5Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. Connecting Health and Care for the Nation: A Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap [Internet]. Washington, DC: Department of Health and Human Services; 2015. Available from:

6Deering MJ, Baur C. Patient portals can enable provider-patient collaboration and person-centered care. In Grando MA, Rozenblum R, Bates DW, editors. Information Technology for Patient Empowerment in Healthcare. Boston: Walter de Gruyter Inc; 2015. p. 93–111.

7Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. Understanding the Impact of Health IT in Underserved Communities and Those with Health Disparities [Internet]. Washington, DC: Department of Health and Human Services; 2013 May. Available from:

8Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Health Literacy Online: A Guide for Simplifying the User Experience [Internet]. Washington, DC: Department of Health and Human Services; 2015 Oct. Available from:

9Patel V, Barker W, Siminerio E. Trends in Consumer Access and Use of Electronic Health [Internet]. ONC Data Brief, no. 30. Washington, DC: Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology; 2015 Oct. Available from:

10Menefee HK, Thompson MJ, Guterbock TM, Williams IC, Valdez RS. Mechanisms of Communicating Health Information Through Facebook: Implications for Consumer Health Information Technology Design. J Med Internet Res [Internet]. 2016 Nov 8;18(8):e218. Available from:

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A patient story provides a chronological narrative of events as these events were experienced by the patient along with the patient’s interpretation of the events. It provides a context explain how the patient’s health problem(s) are understood and the patients While patient stories vary greatly in how detailed and cohesively they are expressed a patient story usually includes three parts these parts are not necessarily in the order presented in the following example.

The introduction will describe the unset of the event often within a certain setting. For example, I was home fixing dinner for house guests when I noticed a strange feeling in my chest. The body of the story will describe the progression of events and well as the interactions between other factors and people who are part of the story.

Nelson, R. & Staggers, N. (in press). Theoretical Foundations of Health Informatics. Chapter 2 in Nelson & Staggers (Eds.) Health Informatics: An Interprofessional Approach. 2nd edition St Louis:  Elsevier/Mosby

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