Table 1

Characteristics of essential health information

CharacteristicComment
ApplicableTo be useful to the public, carers and frontline health workers, health information needs to be applicable, that is, relevant to tackling a practical health problem, culturally acceptable, appropriate to local practice and availability of medicines and facilities, and actionable.
DiverseHealth information needs to cover of a wide variety of people (eg, individuals, families, carers, health workers) and a range of issues for example, common life-threatening diseases, health emergencies. The health information needs of the individual are context dependent—that is, they depend on the given situation at any given time. Every person has health information needs, whether in high-income countries or low-to-middle income countries (LMICs). In LMICs, these needs are especially important because there is less access to actionable, reliable information and less access to health professionals.
ReliableBy ‘reliable’ we mean that the information is based on an objective interpretation of the available evidence. Misinformation, whether unintentional or deliberate, is a serious health hazard, as experiences, for example, with vaccination,33 Ebola34 and coronavirus,35 sadly demonstrate. Biased information can also result consciously or unconsciously from ‘expert opinion’ and from commercial motives (including pharmaceutical advertising).
ComprehensibleEven if reliable information is available, it may not be understandable or assimilated by its recipients if its provision is too technical, or in the wrong language, or an inappropriate form (eg, only in text where literacy levels are low). For example, people with low literacy have been found to have a one in three chance of misunderstanding prescribed medication.36 To improve the assimilation of health information, we need also to improve health literacy, or ‘the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions’.37 It is also critical that providers of health information have a clear understanding of the health literacy of their audiences, and ensure that such information will be intelligible across the widest range possible of health literacy levels.