Applying the Electronic Health Literacy Lens: Systematic Review of Electronic Health Interventions Targeted at Socially Disadvantaged Groups

Christina Cheng, Alison Beauchamp, Gerald R. Elsworth, Richard H. Osborne

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

79 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Electronic health (eHealth) has the potential to improve health outcomes. However, eHealth systems need to match the eHealth literacy needs of users to be equitably adopted. Socially disadvantaged groups have lower access and skills to use technologies and are at risk of being digitally marginalized, leading to the potential widening of health disparities. OBJECTIVE: This systematic review aims to explore the role of eHealth literacy and user involvement in developing eHealth interventions targeted at socially disadvantaged groups. METHODS: A systematic search was conducted across 10 databases for eHealth interventions targeted at older adults, ethnic minority groups, low-income groups, low-literacy groups, and rural communities. The eHealth Literacy Framework was used to examine the eHealth literacy components of reviewed interventions. The results were analyzed using narrative synthesis. RESULTS: A total of 51 studies reporting on the results of 48 interventions were evaluated. Most studies were targeted at older adults and ethnic minorities, with only 2 studies focusing on low-literacy groups. eHealth literacy was not considered in the development of any of the studies, and no eHealth literacy assessment was conducted. User involvement in designing interventions was limited, and eHealth intervention developmental frameworks were rarely used. Strategies to assist users in engaging with technical systems were seldom included in the interventions, and accessibility features were limited. The results of the included studies also provided inconclusive evidence on the effectiveness of eHealth interventions. CONCLUSIONS: The findings highlight that eHealth literacy is generally overlooked in developing eHealth interventions targeted at socially disadvantaged groups, whereas evidence about the effectiveness of such interventions is limited. To ensure equal access and inclusiveness in the age of eHealth, eHealth literacy of disadvantaged groups needs to be addressed to help avoid a digital divide. This will assist the realization of recent technological advancements and, importantly, improve health equity.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere18476
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 13 Aug 2020


  • digital divide
  • eHealth
  • health care
  • health equity
  • health literacy
  • internet
  • telecommunications

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