Digital literacy in health and social care

Digital literacy in health and social care

Building digitally literate health and social care workforce: the ATHIKA project

We are living in a digital society. Technology is integrated in many aspects of our lives, from critical aspects like health, education and economy, to others like social interaction and leisure. So, it is essential to guarantee the capacity of individuals to use digital tools. That is, to ensure people’s digital literacy, specially in critical services like health and social care. Digital literacy can be defined as “those capabilities that fit someone for living, learning, working, participating and thriving in a digital society”. In health and social care, this means a positive attitude towards technology, as well as confidence and capacity to use it. In the IT field, this means a humanistic approach to digital solutions’ design and development.

The ATHIKA project aims to bridge the gap between health and social care workforce and the universe of digital solutions.


Health, social care and technology

Technology is evolving rapidly, and many public services provided to the population now require knowledge and confidence about using digital tools. In healthcare, the digitalization of Electronic Health Records (EHR) has been the foundation for digital health service implementation, for different reasons. First, integration between care levels would not be possible without an appropriate and interoperable database. Second, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has stressed out the need for remote consultations, requiring tools to communicate and exchange health data. Last but not least, mobile apps, wearables and medical devices are the new sources for self-management of health, requiring a protected and secured digital health environment.

It is clear that this digital ecosystem needs an empowered workforce to operate it. From a service provisioning perspective, health and social care workforce have to be fully competent, confident and capable of using digital tools. Then, different domains can be identified when addressing digital literacy for professionals:

  • Information and data sharing tools (Electronic Health Records, ePrescription, mobile apps)
  • Communication tools (e-mail, videoconference, instant messaging)
  • Digital identity (biometric data, certification, signature)
  • Privacy and security (measures to fulfil data protection rules, ethics and privacy in the use of health date, and the like)


Digital literacy in health and social care and new education itineraries

Because of the importance of the above mentioned digital literacy skills, new education itineraries are being defined. Universities, health centres and other training organisations in health and social care are updating their training programmes to include digital literacy skills. Some knowledge gaps identified are related to the following fields [Jimenez et al., 2020]:

  1. Digital health education and curriculum integration,
  2. Improving services and work conditions, and
  3. Wider support for digital health, beyond training and education.

Similarly, engineering education is updating curricula to include a more humanistic approach for digital solutions in health and social care. This is the example of the ATHIKA Project, in which Fundació TIC Salut i Social participates. Also, at a regional level the Catalan Health Department has launched the COMPDIG-Salut project. This project aims to define specific digital competencies of health professionals in Catalonia and the creation of a model for evaluation and certification. Moreover, this project has the support of the Ministry for Digital Policy and Public Administration, and is coordinated by Fundació TIC Salut Social.

Other examples of this approach can be found in the work done by Health Education England (a branch of UK’s NHS). In their Digital literacy of the wider workforce, tools are provided related to: literature review, a desktop study of digital literacy, and A Health and Care Digital Capabilities Framework, which can serve as a self-assessment tool.


The ATHIKA project: actions for a digitally literate workforce

The ATHIKA Project is an Erasmus+ Programme EU co-funded project, aiming to explore innovative approaches to integrate humanistic concerns into technologically advanced training. This project aims to:

  • First, to create an innovative approach for training and support, aimed at increasing the successful implementation of ICT
  • Second, to bring a humanistic approach to the engineering education while addressing new research in the world of AI and IoT linked to Healthcare
  • Third, to boost collaboration among academia, public administration, SMEs, start-ups and industry in the Healthcare realm
  • And finally, to cultivate a scientific & tech innovation culture by offering reflected solutions, that fits into societal needs and desirability

One of the outcomes of this project is the ATHIKA Course, which is currently on-going. More than 200 students have filled their applications from the United Kingdom, Spain, Greece, Lithuania, Estonia and non-EU countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Tanzania, Cuba, Bolivia, Brasil, Chile, China, Colombia and more. Regarding the course, ATHIKA includes: first, a common part on digital transformation; second, fundamentals on IoT, Artificial Intelligence and Governance and Ethics; and finally, different itineraries are offered for a practical exercise.

The biggest part of the enrolled students represents health, engineering, and IT educational background. Also, some students came from Law, Philosophy, Management study fiels. Mixed educational backgrounds student groups help to demonstrate their specific expertise, enrich each other understanding about the eHealth and ease the implementation of the group assignments.


The European Commission’s support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.


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