Electronic Health Literacy among Linguistically Diverse Patients in the Los Angeles County Safety Net Health System

Ethn Dis. 2022 Jan 20;32(1):21-30. doi: 10.18865/ed.32.1.21. eCollection 2022 Winter.


Background: Electronic health (eHealth) literacy may affect telehealth uptake, yet few studies have evaluated eHealth literacy in underserved populations.

Objective: The objective of this study was to describe technology access and use patterns as well as eHealth literacy levels among English-speaking and LEP patients in a Los Angeles safety net health system.

Methods: Patients, aged ≥18 years with a diagnosis of diabetes mellitus and/or hypertension, and their caregivers were recruited from three primary care safety-net clinics in Los Angeles County (California) between June - July 2017. Participants' electronic health literacy was assessed by the eHealth Literacy Scale (eHEALS); participants were also asked about technology access and use. We examined these measures in English-speaking and limited English proficient (LEP) Spanish-speaking patients.

Results: A total of 71 participants (62 patients and 9 caregivers) completed the questionnaire. The mean age of the respondents was 56 years old. More than half of participants used a phone that could connect to the Internet (67%). The mean score for 10 eHEALS items was in the moderate range (26/50 points). There was no difference in mean eHEALS between language groups. However, 47% of Spanish-speaking participants "agreed/strongly agreed" that they knew how to use the Internet to answer their health questions, compared to 68% of English-speaking participants (P<.05).

Conclusions: In this sample of patients from a diverse safety net population, perceived skills and confidence in engaging with electronic health systems were low, particularly among LEP Spanish-speakers, despite moderate levels of electronic health literacy. More studies are needed among diverse patient populations to better assess eHealth literacy and patients' digital readiness, and to examine how these patient metrics directly impact telehealth utilization.

Keywords: Digital Health; Electronic Health Literacy; Health Disparities; LEP; Safety Net.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Electronics
  • Health Literacy*
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Los Angeles
  • Middle Aged
  • Surveys and Questionnaires