Health literacy is defined in Health People 2010 as: “The degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.”
How do you know if your readers and their families have the necessary skills to understand symptoms, treatment options and associated risks, and how and when to take medications; to name a few examples? Do your communications get the message to readers in a way they understand? Are they asking the right questions so you can measure the impact of your communications?
According to CMS, the top criterion for patient education materials is that they’re easy to understand. Sounds simple enough, right? But as we examine the subjective nature of this statement, what’s CMS’ true intent? They recommend that patient education/compliance materials adhere to the principles of plain language, including:
- Communicating in an active voice
- Having a specific focus
- Using appropriate and believable graphics
- Including interactive elements, such as questions, to engage the reader
- Providing additional sources, such as websites for more information
Some studies indicate that up to 90 percent of adults may not have the skills they need to manage their health and prevent disease. As daunting as these statistics may be, as marketers, your challenge is not just to provide pertinent and meaningful information to your constituents to improve health literacy, but deliver it in ways that inspire action.
Marketing communications need to play a larger role in the implementation of effective health literacy programs. With CMS’ additional focus on patient activation and engagement as one of the five pillars of meaningful use of electronic health records (EHR’s), health literacy just makes sense for marketers to focus on. For more information on CMS’ role in patient activation and engagement, please visit www.cms.gov/EHRIncentivePrograms
As most health professionals generally agree, health literacy and the delivery of health literacy has room for improvement. The consensus is that while medical terminology is simple, plain language for clinicians, it’s confusing for patients and their families. Addressing these challenges will help better define your organization’s position in your marketplace.