Measuring actual eHealth literacy among patients with rheumatic diseases: a qualitative analysis of problems encountered using Health 1.0 and Health 2.0 applications

Rosalie van der Vaart, Constance H.C. Drossaert, Miriam de Heus, Erik Taal, Mart A.F.J. van de Laar

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Background: The Internet offers diverse opportunities for disease management, through information websites (Health 1.0) and interactive applications such as peer support forums, online consults, and insight into electronic medical records (Health 2.0). However, various skills are required to benefit from Health 1.0 and Health 2.0 applications for one’s own health, known as eHealth literacy.

Objective: To study the eHealth literacy of patients with rheumatic diseases and the types of problems they encounter when using the Internet in relation to their disease.

Methods: In two studies, patients were asked about their current disease-related Internet use and their eHealth literacy was observed during performance tests. In study 1, 15 patients (aged 39-74) performed 6 information-retrieval tasks on the Internet (Health 1.0). In study 2, 16 patients (aged 24-72) performed 3 Health 2.0 tasks on a hospital-based online Web portal and 2 Health 2.0 tasks on interactive websites. Participants were asked to think aloud while performing the assignments, and screen activities were recorded. Types and frequency of problems were identified by 2 independent researchers and coded into categories using inductive analysis.

Results: Almost all patients in our studies had searched the Internet for information about rheumatic diseases in the past. Fewer patients had used Health 2.0 applications, but many were nevertheless enthusiastic about the possibilities from Health 2.0 applications after finishing the assignments. However, nearly all participants experienced difficulties, and a substantial number of participants were not able to complete all of the assignments. Encountered problems could be divided into 6 sequential categories: (1) operating the computer and Internet browser, (2) navigating and orientating on the Web, (3) utilizing search strategies, (4) evaluating relevance and reliability, (5) adding content to the Web, and (6) protecting and respecting privacy. Most severe difficulties occurred in levels 3 and 4—in formulating a search query, evaluating the source of the information, and in scanning a website for relevant information.

Conclusions: Many patients have insufficient skills to properly use Health 1.0 and Health 2.0. Formulating proper search strategies and evaluating the found information caused problems among the majority of patients. Concerning Health 2.0, use and awareness of these applications is low and patients should be guided in the use of them. Our findings may contribute to the awareness of patients’ eHealth literacy problems among health professionals, and stress the importance of usability guidelines in Web design.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere27
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of medical internet research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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