socioeconomic groups, and people with lower educational and reading levels. These populations also tend to have limited access to computer technology (Eng et al., 1998).
Furthermore, even if it were possible to ensure equal access to technology, some user groups find it extremely difficult to take advantage of such technology. The average U.S. adult reads on just an eighth-grade level, for example, while most websites are designed for people whose reading level is much higher (Berland et al., 2001). In particular it is the elderly and those with limited literacy and number skills who are most likely to have low health literacy and thus be least able to take advantage of new health technologies.
The Institute of Medicine Roundtable on Health Literacy serves to educate the public, press, and policy makers regarding issues of health literacy. Given the importance of health literacy issues in eHealth, the Roundtable decided to hold a workshop to explore and discuss strategies for improving the ways in which information and communication technologies address the needs of those with low health literacy and language barriers. A planning group designed a workshop to answer the following questions:
What is the current status of communications technology, particularly electronic records systems?
What are the challenges of communication technology used for populations with low health literacy?
What are the strategies for increasing the benefit of these technologies for populations with low health literacy?
The workshop was moderated by George Isham. As the presentations in this workshop demonstrate, tremendous resources are being directed toward the development of health information technologies. While the vast majority of these resources are being devoted to systems that focus on physicians and health institutions, some notable efforts, such as those presented in this workshop, have been made to extend the use of these new technologies to patients. The first panel provided an overview of the issues, including a broad examination of eHealth, skills essential for eHealth, and a discussion of communication inequalities. The next two panels used specific examples to explore the challenges and outcomes of different strategies for addressing health literacy issues in eHealth. The final panel discussed the use of emerging tools in developing eHealth systems. The following workshop summary is organized according to the panel presentations.