The Role and Impact of Health Literacy on Peer-to-Peer Health Communication

Stud Health Technol Inform. 2020 Jun 25:269:497-510. doi: 10.3233/SHTI200058.


This chapter explores the impact and role of health literacy in peer-to-peer health communication contexts, such as social media platforms and online patient support groups. The chapter contends that health literacy efforts of researchers, health care providers, and public health practitioners will need to include innovative strategies to help consumers critically evaluate and appropriately utilize the health information found in online communities. The chapter first discusses the rise of peer-to-peer sharing of health information and accompanying health literacy concerns. Next, a series of case studies are presented that illustrate the potential role of health literacy in three different online settings: clinical trial patient support networks, social media channels, and personal blogs. The chapter then explores common themes highlighted in these examples and discusses the range of health literacy benefits and pitfalls that accompany the use of these channels for health information. Finally, the chapter explores existing individual-level and system-level health literacy initiatives for peer-to-peer health communication and suggests opportunities for future work in this area. Such efforts to address and improve health literacy can help individuals and communities successfully navigate online platforms where peer-to-peer health information is exchanged.

Keywords: Health literacy; patient support groups; peer-to-peer health communication; social media.

MeSH terms

  • Blogging
  • Communication
  • Health Communication*
  • Health Literacy*
  • Humans
  • Peer Group
  • Social Media*