For Health Literacy Month, a look into effective patient communication

For more than 20 years, October has been deemed Health Literacy Month, a designation aimed at highlighting the importance of health literacy in the United States. An individual's health literacy, including their ability to understand doctors’ guidelines, follow medication instructions, and discuss their symptoms, has a major impact on how individuals interact with the healthcare system — and for medical organizations, it is important to understand how to tailor messaging, collateral, and information to the patients they are trying to reach. 

What is health literacy?

Personal health literacy is defined as a person’s ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others. It is estimated that around 90 million Americans have low health literacy, and this lack of understanding has a direct impact on the way that individuals interact with medical establishments.

In addition to defining personal health literacy, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services updated its guidelines in 2020 to include a definition for organizational health literacy. This is defined as, “the degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.”

The impact of low health literacy

Health literacy is about more than being able to understand difficult medical terms. Having a low understanding of health information can have an effect on every facet of a person’s experience with the medical system. Low health literacy can make it difficult for a person to locate providers, fill out medical forms, accurately share health history, and understand various risks. Understandably, this also results in patients being more likely to skip preventative care appointments, having poorer health outcomes, and being hospitalized more frequently.

Strategies for health literacy education

While it is important to understand the importance and impact of health literacy, it is also critical that organizations within the healthcare industry use this information to reach patients where they are. A few strategies to do this include:

  • Writing patient-facing materials at an appropriate reading level
  • Providing patients with helpful guides to complicated medical words
  • Offering materials in multiple languages for non-English speakers
  • Using illustrations or pictures when appropriate
  • Giving patients ample opportunity to ask questions and get clarification at every part of the process

Meeting patients at their levels of health literacy is absolutely crucial – especially in clinical trials where concepts may be complicated and protocols are written for researchers, not patients. If you’d like to learn more about how Antidote is taking action to connect more people with research opportunities, get in touch.