Tina D Purnat

Public health

Health misinformation

Infodemic management

Digital and health policy

Health information and informatics

Tina D Purnat
Tina D Purnat
Tina D Purnat
Tina D Purnat
Tina D Purnat
Tina D Purnat
Tina D Purnat

Public health

Health misinformation

Infodemic management

Digital and health policy

Health information and informatics

Blog Post

Information ecosystem disrupting health, Ex #5: Communities experience multiple vulnerabilities together with health information inequalities

Here’s the next example I extrapolated from my recent lecture and discussion about how the information environment impacts public health.

The pursuit of health equity is not merely a specialized branch of our professional field. Rather, it is the foundation upon which the practice of public health is built.

In public health, our primary goal is to improve health and well-being while preventing disease and disability across entire populations. However, achieving these goals is profoundly influenced by our ability to address unequal health outcomes among different groups.

This is why one of the guiding principles in our work is to protect the most vulnerable.

Inequalities are never simple or one dimensional

What we often see in reality is that populations experiencing one kind of vulnerability are also experiencing others that compound the harm and health outcomes.

For example, Indigenous populations face health disparities due to historical marginalization, barriers to access and lack of culturally competent health services, while refugees and asylum seekers struggle with health access, legal uncertainties, and poor living conditions stemming from displacement.

Often, these are also populations that have little access to current, accurate and credible health information, in appropriate formats and languages.

And populations experiencing disparities across access to health services and products, in health information, are often also those that have a history of mistrust in the health system, health workers, products and/or the government.

I often talk about it with this image, to bring home the point that the understanding of the equity must be at the core when we work with different populations. The interplay of all three elements will impact how well either of the three will be achieved.

Digital information environment makes inequalities and health outcomes worse

When we bring into this the perspective of the digital information environment, it impacts all three elements.

The challenge here is that low level of literacies (information, digital, media and health literacies) interacts with social, economic, commercial and health information inequities of users online.

Here’s some examples:

Bottom line

When we assess the vulnerabilities to asymmetries in the information environment, we need to specifically understand the dynamics impacting the most vulnerable populations.

  • Recognize that health information inequalities in digital spaces must be addressed, especially because people turn to them for health information on topics that may be embarrassing or stigmatizing to talk about in person with health providers, care givers or authority figures. Effective provision of digital health information that is current, accurate, and aligned with the online communities’ values can make a difference.
  • Promote digital, information, media, and health literacy generally, but especially among vulnerable and at-risk populations. For example, address menstrual health literacy among young women.
  • Enforce consumer protections against deceptive marketing, as well as the marketing of products that impact health of vulnerable populations such as children.
  • Ensure that community engagement activities in vulnerable communities are aligned with service and product delivery, and both are adapted based on community feedback.