• 17 January 2022



The European Health Literacy Population Survey 2019-2021 (HLS19) examines the ability to navigate the health system and digital health literacy. Germany scores poorly.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for the population to orientate itself in the health system and to find its way through the variety of different health information. This is the result of the new European study "European Health Literacy Population Survey 2019-2021 (HLS19)". 17 countries participated in the study, including Germany with Bielefeld University and the Hertie School Berlin. The study was initiated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Europe, among others.

The ability to navigate the health system, digital health literacy, communicative health literacy, vaccination-related health literacy and economic consequences of health literacy had been included in the study. Since 2019, the participating countries have been working on arriving at a common conceptual and methodological approach, as well as new measurement tools for the survey and evaluation, according to the corresponding press release.

Germany has the highest proportion of citizens with low digital health literacy

The problem, according to the trade portal "Handelsblatt Inside Digital Health": Despite efforts by the Federal Ministry of Health in the last legislature, Germany ends up in last place in the study. "Germany has the highest proportion of citizens with low digital health literacy (58 per cent) and thus lands in last place among the twelve countries. France (46 per cent) and Belgium (45 per cent) score just as poorly. Top performers are Norway (22 per cent), Portugal (26 per cent) and Hungary (29 per cent), where the percentage is low."

"In the study, participants were asked eight questions about the use of health information on the internet. They were asked to assess whether it was easy or difficult for them to use online information to solve health problems. They were also asked whether they could find the information they needed and whether they could judge how trustworthy information was or whether there was a commercial interest behind it," summarises "Handelsblatt Inside Digital Health".

Lower digital competence leads to strain on the health system

This not only shows the lack of digital competence, but also leads to tangible health disadvantages. "A low ability of citizens to use information for health promotion leads to a burden on the health system," according to the study. People then behave more unhealthily, rate their own state of health worse and make greater use of the services of the health system," writes "Handelsblatt Inside Digital Health". According to the article, this leads to higher costs for the system. "It is therefore all the more important that the promotion of health literacy in the population, but also in the health and education system, be given greater focus in politics," the researchers inform.

And how are the politicians reacting? According to the "Handelsblatt", the Federal Ministry of Health (BMG) writes on request that it will closely follow the development of offers for increasing digital health literacy. The ministry explains the slow progress in this area by saying that "an abundance of digitally available information leads to a growing lack of clarity". The BMG also refers to the national health portal gesund.bund.de, which was created under Minister Jens Spahn. However, the website has very few visitors, as "Handelsblatt Inside" reported.

Germany has introduced many digital applications only on paper

The fact that Germany cannot exactly be called a pioneer in the digitalisation of the health system is also shown by a study of the Scientific Institute (WIP) of the Private Health Insurers (PKV), reported by "Handelsblatt Inside Digital Health". It compares the German digital health system with that of six other countries - with unpleasant results. The evaluation shows that many digital applications have been introduced in Germany on paper, but in practice there are still problems. In addition to Germany, the study authors analysed the neighbouring countries Austria, Switzerland, Denmark and Poland. Estonia was included as a country with an exemplary e-health structure, Australia is represented as a non-European country.

This text may contain translation errors as the translation was done by an online translation tool.