Worldwide, various public and privet sectors are fetching and effectively utilizing simple and advanced technological artifacts to improve their productivity and maintain their competitive advantage . The healthcare sector is one of the potential application areas where advanced technologies could improve health service and health system as a whole [2,3,4]. The healthcare sector has been known for its slower adoption of new technologies [5, 6] and it is even slower in middle and low income countries [7,8,9]. However, health care professionals across all clinical practice settings are progressively relying and adapting information communication technologies to perform their professional activities [10,11,12,13]. Several studies have identified the need for a certain level of digital competency in order to make an efficient and effective use of technologies among different allied health professions [14,15,16]. Digital competency of healthcare providers could greatly help the adoption of Electronic Medical Record systems (EMRs) and online risk assessment and decision support tools, as well as the introduction of cutting-edge medical equipment which often have digital user interfaces.
The concept of digital literacy/competency is also known as digital information literacy. Digital information literacy is defined by the European Union Commission as “the set of knowledge, skills, attitudes, abilities, strategies, and awareness that are required when using ICT and digital media to perform tasks; solve problems; communicate; manage information; collaborate; create and share content; and build knowledge effectively, efficiently, appropriately, critically, creatively, autonomously, flexibly, ethically, reflectively for work, leisure, participation, learning, and socializing” [17, 18].
In this era of technology, healthcare professionals particularly in low-income countries should have at least a minimum level of digital competency if technology is to be applied successfully. Studies have identified the need to bridge the digital skill gap of healthcare providers in order to transfer technology to the point where health service quality is maintained. However, most of these studies do not specify in detail where the critical digital skill gap lays [19,20,21]. By itself, digital literacy is a congregating and evolving concept through time and advancement in technology. Thus, Martin (2006) argues the need to maintain up to date level of digital skill. Martin (2006) asserted that digital literacy is not just a threshold one could achieve through certification and diploma at a point time. Rather, it is a temporary and context based concept referring only to the current level of performance . As a result, assessing the level of digital competency should be conducted in parallel with the evolving changes in the digital environment.
In Ethiopia, the government has implemented a strategy that focuses on digitalizing the health system and currently, there are many eHealth project initiatives underway and most of these initiatives are faced with the challenge of sustainability. This could be the result of different factors including a low level of digital competency among target users [23,24,25]. To bridge this gap, the commonly proposed solution is to provide computer training for healthcare providers before or during the implementation of computer-based systems. However, we argue that offering general computer training might not be sufficient to bridge the digital competency gap. Based on the new system’s requirement, one has to assess the proficiency level of user’s digital literacy first. Low productivity, inefficiency and missed opportunities are the key consequences and real-world implications of low digital competency. This could mean medical information is lost or recorded incorrectly, technologies could pass by unadopted, general healthcare standards could fall behind contemporary standards, confidential patient information could be accessed by unauthorized parties, etc. According to the European commission’s classification, digital users could be categorized as basic, intermediate and advanced users. Based on the technology’s enquiry of digital skill level, one should assess the required digital literacy level of potential users and identify the core gaps which needs more attention. In such a way, one might have a clear understanding of the target population. Several studies pined the need to assess digital competency level of potential digital device users in order to give the appropriate level of education and training [26,27,28].
The European Commission has developed a digital competency framework to elucidate the context and aspects of digital competency. The framework identified five core digital literacy components (Information/data literacy, content creation, communication, problem solving and safety) to describe and understand the digital competency level of individuals . To ensure a successful digitization of the health system in Ethiopia and other African countries, understanding the level of healthcare providers’ digital competency could be considered baseline information. The aim of this study was to assess the basic digital competency level of healthcare providers among seven public health centers in North-West Ethiopia.