Background: Digital health technologies hold promise to enhance patient-related outcomes, to support health care staff by reducing their workload, and to improve the coordination of care. As key users of digital health technologies, health care workers are crucial to enable a meaningful digital transformation of health care. Digital health literacy and digital skills should become prerequisite competencies for health professionals to facilitate the implementation and leverage the potential of digital technologies to improve health.
Objective: We aimed to assess European medical students' perceived knowledge and opinions toward digital health, the status of digital health implementation in medical education, and the students' most pressing needs.
Methods: The explanatory design of our mixed methods study was based on an online, anonymous, self-administered survey targeted toward European medical students. A linear regression analysis was used to identify the influence of the year of medical studies on the responses. Additional analysis was performed by grouping the responses by the self-evaluated frequency of eHealth technology use. Written responses to four qualitative questions in the survey were analyzed using an inductive approach.
Results: The survey received a total of 451 responses from 39 European countries, and there were respondents for every year of medical studies. The majority of respondents saw advantages in the use of digital health. While 40.6% (183/451) felt prepared to work in a digitized health care system, more than half (240/451, 53.2%) evaluated their eHealth skills as poor or very poor. Medical students considered lack of education to be the reason for this, with 84.9% (383/451) agreeing or strongly agreeing that more digital health education should be implemented in the medical curriculum. Students demanded introductory and specific eHealth courses covering data management, ethical aspects, legal frameworks, research and entrepreneurial opportunities, role in public health and health systems, communication skills, and practical training. The emphasis lay on tailoring learning to future job requirements and interprofessional education.
Conclusions: This study shows a lack of digital health-related formats in medical education and a perceived lack of digital health literacy among European medical students. Our findings indicate a gap between the willingness of medical students to take an active role by becoming key players in the digital transformation of health care and the education that they receive through their faculties.