Rapid response to BMJ article Strategic enhancement of health literacy through social media in India

2 June, 2024

This is an interesting rapid Response to an article in this week's British Medical Journal. The article is "Health literacy matters"

BMJ 2024; 385 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.q879 (Published 17 April 2024)Cite this as: BMJ 2024;385:q879.

The response by Om Prakash. [*see note from moderator below] Professor of Psychiatry, Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), New Delhi, INDIA, Geriatric Mental Health Division, Department of Psychiatry, Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), New Delhi, @ompsychiatrist is titled:

"Strategic Enhancement of Health Literacy Through Social Media in India"

"Dear Editor

"Strategic Enhancement of Health Literacy Through Social Media in India"

I am compelled to write in response to the thought-provoking opinion piece, "Improving public understanding of medical research: the role of the BMJ" (BMJ 2023;385:q879). This article rightly underscores the pivotal role of health literacy in improving public health outcomes. I wish to extend this discussion, focusing on India — a developing country with unique challenges and opportunities in this area — and the transformative potential of social media in advancing health literacy. The value of health literacy extends beyond basic education; it is crucial for enabling informed health decisions and effective health management, particularly in resource-limited settings. Research consistently shows that higher levels of health literacy correlate with better health outcomes and more efficient use of healthcare services (1).

In developing nations like India, where access to healthcare varies dramatically, improving health literacy can serve as a critical lever to enhance public health and reduce disparities. India presents a landscape of stark contrasts in health literacy, especially between urban and rural areas. Rural populations often face significant barriers to accessing health education and services, exacerbating health disparities and limiting the effectiveness of public health interventions (2). However, India's rapidly expanding digital infrastructure represents a formidable opportunity to mitigate these challenges. With over 600 million internet users, digital platforms can be strategically utilized to disseminate targeted health education and engage diverse populations (3).

Social media is extensively used across India and can be a powerful tool for spreading health information. It has the potential to educate and engage communities, thus enhancing their understanding and management of health. Nevertheless, the risk of misinformation, particularly highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, cannot be overlooked (4). Rigorous validation of content and collaboration with healthcare professionals are essential to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information shared.

To effectively harness the potential of social media in improving health literacy in India, I recommend:

(a) Establishing partnerships between the government, non-governmental organizations, and social media platforms to develop and promote accurate health content.

(b) Implementing national health literacy campaigns using the extensive reach and interactive capabilities of social media.

(c) Facilitating collaboration between health professionals and digital media experts to ensure that content is factual, engaging, and comprehensible.

By enhancing health literacy through social media, India has the potential to significantly improve its public health landscape, making healthcare more accessible and effective. This initiative aligns with global health objectives and can greatly contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly those related to good health and well-being.

References:

1. Berkman ND, Sheridan SL, Donahue KE, Halpern DJ, Crotty K. Low health literacy and health outcomes: an updated systematic review. Ann Intern Med. 2011;155:97-107.

2. Rowlands G, Protheroe J, Winkley J, Richardson M, Seed PT, Rudd R. Health literacy and the health status of men with chronic conditions who are underprivileged and disadvantaged. Lancet. 2015;385:2395-2405.

3. Kemp S. Digital 2020: 3.8 billion people use social media. We Are Social. 2020.

4. Pennycook G, McPhetres J, Zhang Y, Lu JG, Rand DG. Fighting COVID-19 misinformation on social media: Experimental evidence for a scalable accuracy-nudge intervention. Psychol Sci. 2020;31:770-780.

Competing interests: No competing interests

HIFA profile: Richard Fitton is a retired family doctor - GP. Professional interests: Health literacy, patient partnership of trust and implementation of healthcare with professionals, family and public involvement in the prevention of modern lifestyle diseases, patients using access to professional records to overcome confidentiality barriers to care, patients as part of the policing of the use of their patient data Email address: richardpeterfitton7 AT gmail.com

[*Note from HIFA moderator (NPW): I have invited Dr Prakash to join us]