Australia’s digital ‘health literacy’ dilemma

27 July 2022 –

Aussies choose Dr Google over healthcare professionals, but few understand the information they find

  • Two-thirds (66%) of Australians head online before seeking healthcare professional advice for common health conditions
  • Nine out of ten (91%) admit they don’t fully understand the health information they find
  • Overwhelmingly, Australians (97%) feel responsible for their health, but 1 in 4 (27%) feel they don’t have the information to manage common health conditions.

With the nation’s health needs front and centre once again, new findings have uncovered a significant digital health challenge with two-thirds of Australians (66%) seeking information online, for common health conditions, before consulting a healthcare professional, but the majority (91%) state they don’t fully understand the information they find.

New insights from ‘The Self-Care Opportunity’  Report, launched this week by Consumer Healthcare Products Australia (CHP AUSTRALIA), gathered views from 2,000 adults nationally, to uncover Australians’ knowledge and skills in managing everyday health conditions, including motivations to take greater care of themselves, levels of health literacy, use of digital health technologies, and interactions with healthcare professionals.

Overwhelmingly Australians (97%) feel responsible for managing their own health and a significant proportion (84%) want to improve their health skills and knowledge to be more engaged in their health. But the findings show close to one in three (30%) consider their health literacy level is low, presenting a substantial barrier to improving community wellness and health outcomes.

The Report also uncovered more than half (52%) of Australians find it difficult to identify credible sources online. Over a quarter (28%) would trust the information they find online more if it was independently verified as credible.

CHP Australia CEO, Dr Deon Schoombie, said with Australia currently experiencing another COVID wave, it has never been more important to foster a health resilient and empowered population. “Self-care is much more than mindfulness and empowers people to take charge of their health with proactive steps like strong hygiene practices, knowing how to use medication responsibly and fostering strong health knowledge and skills. Self-care not only helps prevent illness and improve health outcomes, it lifts the performance of our entire health system and saves on costs,” said Dr Schoombie.

The Self Care Opportunity Report clearly shows an urgent need to help Australians with digital health literacy - to know where to find, how to interpret, and how to use health information from online sources. This is very important as we can clearly see those with higher literacy levels have higher engagement in their health.”

Additional findings:

  • Australian’s health literacy levels are mixed, with just one in five (22%) rating their health literacy as high, one in three (30%) believe their health literacy is low.
  • Eight out of ten Australians (81%) use health websites, apps, or social media to manage common health conditions.
  • One quarter (24%) monitor their health with phone apps and health trackers, and one in five (19%) use wearable devices, like a smartwatch.
  • Millennials lead the digital charge with 80% going online for healthcare information before seeing a GP or pharmacist. One in two Baby Boomers (47%) go online as a first port of call.
  • Nine in ten Australians want parents (92%) or schools (88%) to do more to teach children health literacy.
  • Health care professionals also play a trusted role with 89% likely to seek advice from GPs and four in five (82%) a pharmacist for common, short-term health conditions.
  • Three-quarters of Australians (73%) rely on pharmacists for advice on using prescription medicines and three in five (58%) on non-prescription medicines.

Dr Schoombie believes a significant ‘turning point’ has arrived now for government, healthcare professionals and industry to create an exponential improvement in health outcomes with cost savings, by taking advantage of Australian’s firm interest and engagement in improving self-care and the uptake of digital health solutions.

“We have an opportunity now to make a significant difference to our overall national health status by making a greater investment in self-care education, upskilling digital health literacy, and creating more verified and easy-to-access digital health sources,” said Dr Schoombie.