Addressing and evaluating health literacy in mHealth: a scoping review

Margaret R. Emerson, Sydney Buckland, Maxwell A. Lawlor, Danae Dinkel, David J. Johnson, Maria S. Mickles, Louis Fok, Shinobu Watanabe-Galloway

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Recent surveys have revealed many adults have basic or below basic health literacy, which is linked to medical errors, increased illness, and compromised public health. Health literacy as a concept is multi-faceted extending beyond the individual to include social structures and the context in which health information is being accessed. Delivering health information via mobile devices (mHealth) expands the amount of information available while presenting challenges to ensuring these materials are suitable for a variety of literacy needs. The aims of this study are to discover how health literacy is addressed and evaluated in mHealth app development. Methods: A scoping review of 5 peer-reviewed databases was conducted. Eligible articles were written in English, addressed general literacy or mHealth/digital/eHealth literacy, and collected literacy information in order to incorporate literacy into the design and/or modification of an app or collected literacy information to describe the population being studied. The “Health Literacy Online” (HLO) United States (U.S.) government guide was used as a framework. Results: Thirty-two articles were reviewed. Articles included health literacy recommendations for all HLO categories and some recommendations not aligned with these categories. Most articles addressed health literacy using specific HLO categories though none incorporated every HLO category. The most common categories addressed engagement and testing of mHealth content. Though several studies addressed health literacy through a formal assessment tool, most did not. Evaluation of health literacy in mHealth was end-user focused and did not extensively evaluate content for fit to a variety of individuals with limited health literacy. Conclusions: The recommendations seen consistently in our results in conjunction with formal HLO categories can act as beginning steps towards development of a health literacy evaluation tool for mHealth apps themselves. It is clear efforts are being made to reduce barriers to using mHealth for those with literacy deficits, however, it was also clear that this space has room to be more pragmatic in evaluation of mHealth tools for literacy. End user engagement in design and testing is necessary in future mHealth literacy tool development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number33
StatePublished - Oct 30 2022


  • digital literacy
  • eHealth literacy
  • mHealth
  • mental health
  • review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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