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Digital Literacy as a New Determinant of Health: a Scoping Review

Maria del Pilar Arias López, Bradley A. Ong, Xavier Borrat Frigola, Ariel L. Fernández, Rachel S. Hicklent, Arianne J. T. Obeles, Aubrey M. Rocimo, Leo A. Celi


Harnessing new digital technologies can improve access to health care but can also widen the health divide for those with poor digital literacy. This scoping review aims to assess the current situation of low digital health literacy in terms of its definition, reach, impact on health and interventions for its mitigation.


Digital technologies are transforming health, health care, and public health systems across the world, and they have a great potential to improve population and individual´s health and wellbeing [1]. Technology has advanced in such a way that it has made it possible to expand the type of interactions available between the user and the medical provider or the healthcare systems.

Materials and method

This scoping review was conducted following the methodological framework of Arksey and O’Malley [10]. The review process was structured according to the following stages:


A total of 268 articles were identified in the study. Of these, 263 came from the electronic search and five came from the references of the literature and systematic reviews identified from the electronic search. Fig 1 lists the number of studies included and excluded per step according to the diagram adapted from the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses: The PRISMA Statement [11].


Digital determinants of health, like insufficient technology access and digital literacy, are currently recognized as Social Determinants of Health (SDOH). However, they should not be considered merely the sixth domain on the list of determinants of health, as they are major controllers of every SDOH and the environment in which they can be accessed fully.


Digital health information resources and digital interaction with providers have great advantages with the potential to improve the efficiency, quality and reach of healthcare systems while empowering the patient. However, it is very important that commitment to this strategy leaves no one behind. Ethnic minorities, the elderly and patients of low socioeconomic status are at risk of having low digital literacy and, therefore, of having increasing difficulty accessing healthcare as the wave of digital health unfolds.

Citation: Arias López MdP, Ong BA, Borrat Frigola X, Fernández AL, Hicklent RS, Obeles AJT, et al. (2023) Digital literacy as a new determinant of health: A scoping review. PLOS Digit Health 2(10): e0000279.

Editor: Jennifer Ziegler, University of Manitoba Faculty of Medicine: University of Manitoba Max Rady College of Medicine, CANADA

Received: December 20, 2022; Accepted: May 19, 2023; PublishedOctober 12, 2023

Copyright: © 2023 Arias López et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Data Availability: All data are in the manuscript and supporting information files.

Funding: The authors received no specific funding for this work.

Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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