SAGE Journals

COVID-19 infodemic and digital health literacy in vulnerable populations: A scoping review

Posted on 2022-02-25 - 01:06

People from lower and middle socioeconomic classes and vulnerable populations are among the worst affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, thus exacerbating disparities and the digital divide.


To draw a portrait of e-services as a digital approach to support digital health literacy in vulnerable populations amid the COVID-19 infodemic, and identify the barriers and facilitators for their implementation.


A scoping review was performed to gather published literature with a broad range of study designs and grey literature without exclusions based on country of publication. A search was created in Medline (Ovid) in March 2021 and translated to Medline, PsycINFO, Scopus and CINAHL with Full Text (EBSCOhost). The combined literature search generated 819 manuscripts. To be included, manuscripts had to be written in English, and present information on digital intervention(s) (e.g. social media) used to enable or increase digital health literacy among vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g. older adults, Indigenous people living on reserve).


Five articles were included in the study. Various digital health literacy-enabling e-services have been implemented in different vulnerable populations. Identified e-services aimed to increase disease knowledge, digital health literacy and social media usage, help in coping with changes in routines and practices, decrease fear and anxiety, increase digital knowledge and skills, decrease health literacy barriers and increase technology acceptance in specific groups. Many facilitators of digital health literacy-enabling e-services implementation were identified in expectant mothers and their families, older adults and people with low-income. Barriers such as low literacy limited to no knowledge about the viruses, medium of contamination, treatment options played an important role in distracting and believing in misinformation and disinformation. Poor health literacy was the only barrier found, which may hinder the understanding of individual health needs, illness processes and treatments for people with HIV/AIDS.


The literature on the topic is scarce, sparse and immature. We did not find any literature on digital health literacy in Indigenous people, though we targeted this vulnerable population. Although only a few papers were included, two types of health conditions were covered by the literature on digital health literacy-enabling e-services, namely chronic conditions and conditions that are new to the patients. Digital health literacy can help improve prevention and adherence to a healthy lifestyle, improve capacity building and enable users to take the best advantage of the options available, thus strengthening the patient’s involvement in health decisions and empowerment, and finally improving health outcomes. Therefore, there is an urgent need to pursue research on digital health literacy and develop digital platforms to help solve current and future COVID-19-related health needs.


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