2/23/23 · Research

Health professionals in Catalonia need to improve their digital literacy

A study by the UOC and the Government of Catalonia concludes that most of these specialists have a basic level of digital competencies
The results have informed the 2021-2025 Catalan Health Plan, and will be the basis for creating a training action plan in this area
Improving digital literacy remains one of the challenges for healthcare professionals  (Image: Tima Miroshnichenko, Pexels)

Improving digital literacy remains one of the challenges for healthcare professionals (Image: Tima Miroshnichenko, Pexels)

Online appointments, electronic prescriptions and medical applications are some of the tools that are increasingly common in health services, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the gradual incorporation of these technological breakthroughs, improving digital literacy remains one of the challenges for professionals in this area for the present and the future. Researchers at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) have taken part in a study that has designed a new tool for assessing digital competencies among this group in Catalonia, as well as their training needs.

The results, which have been published in open access format in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, conclude that most have a basic level, and the study highlights the need to implement an immediate action plan so that health professionals receive training in digital health.

"Understanding healthcare professionals' level of digital competence is essential for promoting policies and strategic actions that are important to boost professional performance. The results of this study have informed the 2021-2025 Catalan Health Plan, and will lay the foundations for the development and implementation of a framework programme for digital competencies for healthcare professionals," explained Francesc Saigí, a member of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the UOC, researcher in the Epi4health group, collaborator with the eHealth Center (eHC), and the director of the Collaborating Centre in eHealth of the World Health Organization.

This research is one of the results of the COMPDIG-Salut (Digital Skills for Health Professionals) project, from the Government of Catalonia's Ministry of Health and Ministry for Digital Policy and Public Administration, and coordinated by the ICT Social Health Foundation, which seeks to provide health professionals in Catalonia with specific digital competencies.

An innovative test to assess competencies

The researchers looked at the digital competencies of 803 healthcare professionals working in Catalonia, including doctors and nurses, dentists, nutritionists, opticians, pharmacists, physiotherapists, podiatrists, speech therapists and other health specialists such as biologists, chemists and psychologists. First, in a voluntary survey, they gathered data on their knowledge and use of professional digital tools, and about their training needs.

They subsequently assessed those competencies with an innovative test based on the ACTIC 2 intermediate certificate (the framework of reference in this field), which consisted of two real-life scenarios with various questions. "Applying this tool gave us vital information for making timely and reasonable decisions, at the level of both policies and actions. Thanks to its methodology and consistency, it's a tool that can undoubtedly become a benchmark at an international level," emphasized Montse Guitert, a member of the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences at the UOC, and the principal investigator of the Edul@b research group.

Higher levels of digital competence among younger staff

Most of the participants rated their level of digital competence as average (47.8%) or basic (44.5%), while the majority were found to have a basic level in the competence test. The study also found differences according to age: levels of digital competence were higher among younger professionals (aged between 18 and 25 years old). "This result is repeated in other scenarios, where the level of digital literacy is inversely proportional to the user's age," explained Teresa Romeu, a member of the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences at the UOC, and a researcher in the Edul@b research group.

"This shows that using digital technologies in the personal sphere has positive effects on their use in professional practice," said Eulàlia Hernández, a researcher in the Behavioural Design Lab-PSiNET research group, and a member of the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences.

Training beyond professional tools

The study also gathers very valuable information about the most widely used professional digital tools (office tools, social media and electronic health records), as well as which of these tools the participants in the study would like to receive more training on. These included disease prevention and health promotion tools, office tools, electronic health records and remote monitoring tools.

According to Guitert, these results show that the training needs went beyond the main types of digital tools used in professional practice, and that these needs were inversely proportional to how frequently they were used. "The data show that the interest of healthcare professionals in digital competence goes beyond the limitations imposed by their current professional digital skills, or even their current clinical practice."

The researchers believe that this is one of the challenges of digital training, as a command of professional tools is not enough. "Despite healthcare professionals being adept at digital technologies (by which we mean electronic medical records, and e-appointments, which were widely implemented due to COVID-19, among other tools), if the level of digital literacy is low, we're not taking advantage of all the benefits that digital health has to offer, and healthcare professionals are a key factor in this area," said Saigí.

This study will be the starting point for the design of training content tailored to professionals, which will have an impact on both undergraduate and postgraduate training, and on continuous education for healthcare professionals who are working, while falling within the framework programme for digital competencies established for healthcare professionals.

New project with Estonia

COMPDIG-Salut will continue with a new two-year project which has already obtained funding from the European Union. The initiative, which was launched last January, is being led by the ICT Social Health Foundation and the Ministry of Social Affairs of Estonia, with the participation of experts from the UOC.

The main objective is to enable health authorities to implement a strategy to standardize, assess and improve digital competencies among healthcare professionals. The project will thereby define training pathways associated with those skills, in which the UOC will play an active role. "As an innovative university in the use of online training, making intensive use of information technologies, and a leader in the field of digital health, as well as being a Collaborating Centre in eHealth for the WHO, we can provide solutions not only in training for the acquisition of digital competencies, but also in the design and implementation of diagnostic tools, which are a key factor in making decisions such as establishing strategies," said Saigí.

This project has received funding from the European Union's Technical Support Instrument (TSI). It has been led by the TIC Salut Social Foundation and developed by NTT DATA with support from the UOC and the Directorate-General for Structural Reform Support (DG Reform).

This UOC research supports Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3, Good Health and Well-being.


Reixach E, Andrés E, Sallent Ribes J, Gea-Sánchez M, Àvila López A, Cruañas B, González Abad A, Faura R, Guitert M, Romeu T, Hernández-Encuentra E, Bravo-Ramirez S, Saigí-Rubió F. Measuring the Digital Skills of Catalan Health Care Professionals as a Key Step Toward a Strategic Training Plan: Digital Competence Test Validation Study. J Med Internet Res 2022;24(11):e38347




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