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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2015  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 3-6

The application of digital technology in community health education

1 Department of General Practice, The First Affiliated Hospital, College of Medicine, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou 310003, China
2 Zhongtai Community Health Service Center, Hangzhou 311100, Zhejiang Province, China

Date of Web Publication30-Sep-2015

Correspondence Address:
Jingjing Ren
Department of General Practice, The First Affiliated Hospital, College of Medicine, Zhejiang University, No. 79, Qingchun Road, Hangzhou 210003, Zhejiang Province
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Source of Support: This work was supported by a grant from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 71350006), Conflict of Interest: None declared.

DOI: 10.4103/2226-8561.166366

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With the rapid development of the internet and information technologies, coupled with a variety of digital media, the digital technology has become a conventional method of health education for the general public and has the potential to influence health behaviors. Our aim was to conduct a review of how digital technology projects have been used in the health education and health promotion, as well as the disadvantages and barriers in the process.

Keywords: Community health education, digital technology, health promotion

How to cite this article:
Ren W, Huang C, Liu Y, Ren J. The application of digital technology in community health education. Digit Med 2015;1:3-6

How to cite this URL:
Ren W, Huang C, Liu Y, Ren J. The application of digital technology in community health education. Digit Med [serial online] 2015 [cited 2023 Mar 29];1:3-6. Available from: http://www.digitmedicine.com/text.asp?2015/1/1/3/166366

  Introduction Top

With the rapid development of the internet and information technologies, coupled with a variety of digital media, a convenient and efficient virtual community health care system has gradually been built. The digital technology has become a conventional method of health education for the general public and has the potential to influence health behaviors. Digital technology has also brought new opportunities and challenges for the community health education system, and has provided tremendous flexibility for delivering health information.[1]

Digital media, which are electronic media that operate on digital codes, offer a broad range of applications, such as social networking tools, online games, animation, interactive and personalized websites and video/audio recording. They provide tremendous flexibility for delivering health-related information at a time and place that is chosen by the individual or the community. A total of nearly 1.2 billion people are using mobile phone in China now, and the mobile internet market scale will reach 648 million users. At the same time, internet use is rising in China. A report revealed that the number of internet users in China is expected to be more than 800 million, and 25% of the new internet users will be from rural areas.[2] So the digital technology has received attention from those working in health promotion as a promising new way of achieving their goals of preventing ill-health and promoting healthy behaviors at the population level. Digital technology and a variety of media were examined using information from peer-reviewed journals, websites, and key reports. We examined how these tools could be used for education and awareness, data access, and for strengthening health information systems.

Applications of the digital technologies in the health education system are emphasizing on using the internet platform or other digital media to develop health education and health promotion activities, which are aimed to improve residents' ability to find and use evidence-based health information on the internet and improve their level of health knowledge and health consciousness. It can also promote the community health service, create a healthy living condition, and achieve the goals to improve the level of community public health and quality of life.

  The Application of Digital Technology in Community Health Education Top

The main capabilities provided by digital applications are voice, text, animation, and data access with information going one-way, two-ways, or multiple ways.[3] The most commonly documented use was one-way text message and phone reminders to encourage follow-up appointments, healthy behaviors, and data gathering. The digital technology media include websites, social networking tools, online games and animation, and mobile devices like mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and smartphones, patient monitoring devices, and mobile telemedicine devices.

The workers typically use message (using social media such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Blogs, Wikis, and Mobile phone) to disseminate information or direct patients to services for health education, promotion, and awareness.[4] Computer touchscreen is a kind of usual set for people to access information in public places. People can find the information they need by just checking it with their fingers. Now it is used in some hospitals, nursing homes, community health centers, and other appropriate public places, which set up health information for people to access at any time.[5] The internet also can be a powerful and appropriate tool for health education. Residents find useful information in public websites or some special websites established by the community workers. Groups of people can use the internet to communicate with each other, build social relationship, and provide each other with social support. Meanwhile, the digital technology provides additional support to community health workers during home visits. The Tanzanian Mobile Video for Community Health Workers project used the CommCare tool to provide health education videos played on mobile phones.[6] What's more, it was useful in data transfer for health record tracking or clinical decision support, and mobile telemedicine devices for patient monitoring or diagnosis.

Except for popularizing health knowledge for the public, the digital technology was used to provide information, motivate individuals, and encourage self-management or promote disease prevention. One research showed that the world is ready for digital media programs to support self-management. Simple interventions, such as the use of text messaging in mobile devices, have successfully improved the adherence to medication in adults with chronic diseases. Using mobile phones with built-in video cameras helps individuals better manage their diet to prevent obesity and other diet-related diseases.[7] Health promoters also use the media platforms and mobile devices to control behaviors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, exercise, and sexual behaviors.[8],[9] Analysis of community health and assessment of community health needs are the first step to make the community health education and health promotion plan and to conduct health promotion activities successfully.[10] Organizations can use the internet to solicit input and involvement in health promotion programs, and to speed their diffusion and adoption.

  The Advantages of Digital Technology in Community Health Education Top

Improve work efficiency

Using the digital technology, the community health education workers can obtain the residents' information accurately and can make the corresponding countermeasures according to the information immediately. It was also used in registration, query, sorting, and statistics of large numbers of community population information, which can reduce the workload of community health education workers and accomplish information sharing. The floating population management was a big problem in our country. In some places in the absence of information technology, the doctors cannot obtain the patients' information in paper, and they cannot evaluate the patients' health status longitudinal, while in the digital technology age all of this can be solved by the internet. The doctors can make full use of the residents' record and provide personal healthcare services. After analyzing the data of the community, the managers can determine community health problems and main risk factors, which will provide the scientific basis for making community health plan and implementing effective management.

Promote the quality of health education

Health education information was easier to understand by community residents when using digital technology. In health education lectures, community doctors use different kinds of animation which is suitable for a variety of needs of different people, to help the community residents understand and study easier. One research of 170 residents from Shenzhen, Qingdao, Shenyang, Daqing showed that 98.2% of them prefer health education lectures in animation rather than text, 88.2% are able to spread the health knowledge after learning that. 99.4% of them think that using this form of communication materials not only makes health knowledge persuasive and imaginative, but also makes it interesting and appealing. Seventy percent of the residents think that illustrated, intuitive image will be more helpful in the process of lecture.[11]

The traditional media such as newspaper, book, radio, television, and movie have the advantages of wide coverage, fast transmission, large amount of information, and low cost, but they are unable to satisfy the different demand of each person. While digital technology has important features of being real-time, interactive, and audience-centered; it can also make text, graphics, sound, dynamic, and static images. Together, they can create realistic art effect and make education abundant in content.

Improve residents' healthcare consciousness

Through all kinds of health education activities, the workers discovered that the community residents lack the health knowledge of mental health, drugs, and disease prevention. Some of them cling to their old ideas and have unhealthy life styles before, but now after the telephone consultation and searching on the internet they learned how to control risk factors and how to prevent diseases. Access to internet empowers residents to take control of their health and enables them to participate in special lectures and educational programs. One research about giving health education to patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus by taking advantage of the characteristics of modern information technology suggests that after 4 months' education, the preventive knowledge of 42 patients were increased, and good compliance was observed (92%).[12]

  The Barriers of Digital Technology in Community Health Education Top

Inaccurate and misleading information

The aim of the digital technology in community health education was to improve residents' ability to find and use evidence-based health information on the internet. However, the digital technologies are dynamic and heterogeneous, constantly shifting in their meanings according to the context in which they are used. In fact, much of the health information was inaccurate and misleading on the internet and some websites are run for profit.

Lack of investment

Support and guarantee should be given thereto in such aspects as personnel, material, and finance. The community should assign special workers to provide health education.[13] There are no real health education workers in most communities now. Usually the workers are doctors or nurses in other department and they do not have enough time to carry out education activities or think about how these technologies could be most effectively used as tools in their efforts to help people. A study indicates that few people are using digital technology to get information, communicate with health personnel, or make online medical purchases. Furthermore, less well-educated, lower-income individuals living in rural areas tend to use the healthcare internet less than others. Several policy measures like increasing input need to be undertaken in order to accelerate the appropriate use of digital technology by healthcare consumers of all kinds. These include improving education and technological literacy and providing access to low-cost digital technology.[14]

Widening the disparities

In light of the fact that the internet offers tremendous potential as a tool for health promotion and that lack of access to the internet actually may widen the disparities of health and well-being for individuals, communities, and entire societies, it is imperative that health education researchers and practitioners develop effective internet-based health promotion programs while working vigilantly to increase functional access to the internet among the most underserved communities and populations.[15],[16]

The privacy and safety

Although the internet offers great promise for health education and promotion, there are also potential risks. There risks may include, but are not limited to, misappropriation of limited resources and violations of privacy and confidentiality. The discourse in health promotion represents people as willing to take on responsibility for promoting their health using these latest technologies, to the point that they are happy to receive regular messages on their mobile phone or to have their health habits and behaviors continuously monitored and assessed. They may also feel invaded by the sheer overload of data that may be generated by membership of social networking sites and the difficulty of switching off mobile devices and taking time out from using them.[17] Also viruses may lead to loss of health records, and we have a series of health education follow-up which shall be conducted by the help of the health records. If data go missing after files or programs are destroyed, the quality of health education will be affected. Guidelines on the rights to data, usage, and storage must be outlined and implemented, with sufficient qualitative data to explain potential findings collected alongside close program monitoring.[18]

In short, the digital technology has the greatest potential to promote health and prevent disease for individuals and communities throughout the world. Addressing inaccurate and misleading information, lack of investment, the wide gap, and security and privacy issues in digital technology have also been proven challenging. Extensive research will be required to maximize positive health effects of digital technology while minimizing potential dangerous side effects.

  References Top

Shen XF. The digital challenge of health education. Jiangsu Health Care 2001;3:51.  Back to cited text no. 1
Cnbeta.com. The number of Internet users in China is expected to more than 800 million. Available from: http://www.cnbeta.com/articles/208136.htm [Last accessed on 2012 Oct 2].  Back to cited text no. 2
Kallander K, Tibenderana JK, Akpogheneta OJ, Strachan DL, Hill Z, ten Asbroek A, et al. Mobile health (mHealth) approaches and lessons for increased performance and retention of community health workers in low- and middle-income countries: A review. J Med Internet Res 2013;15:e17.  Back to cited text no. 3
Lupton D. M-health and health promotion: The digital cyborg and surveillance society. Soc Theory Health 2012;10:229-44.  Back to cited text no. 4
Liu WM, Cen LP, Luo ZM, Wang XJ. The application of modern information technology in health education and health promotion. Chin J Health Educ 2006;22:801-2.  Back to cited text no. 5
Soul Beat Africa. Mobile video for community health workers in Tanzania. 2011 Mar 21. Available from: http://www.comminit.com/?q=africa/node/320595. [Last accessed on 2012 Apr 3].  Back to cited text no. 6
Chen N, Lee YY, Rabb M, Schatz B. Toward dietary assessment via mobile phone video cameras. AMIA Annu Symp Proc 2010;2010:106-10.  Back to cited text no. 7
Laakso EL, Armstrong K, User W. Cyber-management of people with chronic disease: A potential solution to eHealth challenges. Health Educ J 2011;5:1-8.  Back to cited text no. 8
Mays D, Cremeens J, Usdan S, Martin R, Arriola K, Bernhardt J. The feasibility of assessing alcohol use among college students using wireless mobile devices: Implications for health education and behavioural research. Health Educ J 2010;69:311-20.  Back to cited text no. 9
Tang Z, Li L. The organization of health education and health promotion in urban areas. Health Educ Health Promot 2009;4:44-6.  Back to cited text no. 10
Sun JG, Li L, Chang H, Lin DN, Qi F, Liu XY, et al. Applied research on multi-media TV program of health education in community health service. Chin J Health Educ 2007;23:192-4.  Back to cited text no. 11
Luo HL, Lin XM. Application of modern information technology on health education in type 2 diabetes mellitus patients. Nurse Pract Educ 2009;6:81-3.  Back to cited text no. 12
Wen Q, Guo CJ. The Issues of and solutions to community health education and health improvement. Chin Prim Health Care 2007;21:75- 6.  Back to cited text no. 13
Kind T, Huang ZJ, Farr D, Pomerantz KL. Internet and computer access and use for health information in an underserved community. Ambul Pediatr 2005;5:117-21.  Back to cited text no. 14
Denizard-Thompson NM, Feiereisel KB, Stevens SF, Miller DP, Wofford JL. The digital divide at an urban community health center: Implications for quality improvement and health care access. J Community Health 2011;36:456-60.  Back to cited text no. 15
Miller EA, West DM. Where's the revolution? Digital technology and health care in the internet age. J Health Polit Policy Law 2009;34:261-84.  Back to cited text no. 16
Boyd D. Facebook's privacy trainwreck: Exposure, invasion, and social convergence. Convergence 2008;14:13-20.  Back to cited text no. 17
Bernhardt JM. Health education and the digital divide: Building bridges and filling chasms. Health Educ Res 2000;15:527-31.  Back to cited text no. 18

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