The role of primary care in informing and supporting people with limited health literacy in the Netherlands during the COVID-19 pandemic: a qualitative interview study

BMC Prim Care. 2022 May 11;23(1):115. doi: 10.1186/s12875-022-01723-w.


Background: During the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, people have been confronted with a large amount of information about the virus and the governmental measures against its spreading. However, more than a quarter of individuals have limited health literacy (HL), meaning that they have difficulty finding, understanding, and applying health information. The purpose of this interview study was to investigate how individuals with limited HL acquire information about COVID-19 and governmental measures, what difficulties they experience in understanding and applying it, and what may be needed to overcome these difficulties. We also addressed other problems that they might face as a result of the pandemic. Using our findings, we aimed to make recommendations on the possible role of primary care in informing and supporting patients with limited HL during the pandemic.

Methods: Between June and October 2020, 28 individuals with limited HL were interviewed by phone (age range 20-84). The interviews were semi-structured and focused on the first months of the pandemic in the Netherlands (March/April/May 2020).

Results: The participants generally found COVID-19-related information abundant and complicated, and sometimes contradictory. Information provision by their own health care professionals was highly appreciated, especially in the context of chronic illnesses. General health care problems resulting from COVID-19 measures were postponement of regular care and difficulty with digital contacts.

Conclusions: Individuals with limited HL may benefit from provision of COVID-19-related information and support by their own health care providers. This applies in particular to patients with chronic illnesses. Primary care professionals are in the ideal position to take this role.

Keywords: COVID-19; Health communication; Health literacy; Primary health care; Professional-patient relations; Qualitative research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Health Literacy*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Pandemics
  • Primary Health Care
  • Qualitative Research
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Young Adult