Health Literacy Missouri: Our health literacy ‘elevator speech’

Health literacy is a nebulous concept. It relates to a variety of challenges that exist in the health care system and solutions that are ever evolving.

Since Health Literacy Missouri opened for business in December 2009, we’ve continually refined how we talk about “health literacy” and how to relate it to our various audiences.

As we celebrate Health Literacy Month, we want to share some of the main points we’ve come up with as we’ve developed our trainings over the course of two years. Our hope is that it inspires your own “elevator speech” about health literacy.

  • Health literacy is the bridge between the patient and the health care system. It is about giving patients the ability to make good health decisions in their everyday lives.
  • Approximately 90 million American adults have basic or below basic literacy levels. This is roughly the combined populations of Belgium, France and the Netherlands.
  • Low health literacy costs the United States economy between $106 billion and $238 billion a year. This would be enough money to insure 47 million people – the entire populations of California and Missouri combined.

We know it’s impossible to address all of the barriers that exist within the health care system, but awareness of the issue and what factors impact a patient’s ability to succeed in the health care system is a first step. Beyond that, we encourage these best practices for improving health literacy in your work:

  • Apply these basic plain language principles when communicating verbally: slow down, move from points that are most important to know to least important, break complex information into chunks and limit your message to 3-5 main points.
  • Use teach-back, a method that lets patients describe concepts in their own words and explain or demonstrate how they will do a treatment.

What health literacy messages and practices do you use?

For more information about our organization and health literacy, visit our website.

JUST RELEASED: National Action Plan on Improving Health Literacy

Big news for healthcare providers and health literacy educators alike! The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has just released the National Action Plan on Improving Health Literacy. This national initiative outlines seven specific goals that will improve health literacy and make health reform a true reality.

These seven goals are outlined as such:

1. Develop and disseminate health and safety information that is accurate, accessible, and actionable
2. Promote changes in the health care system that improve health information, communication, informed decision making, and access to health services, and access to health services
3. Incorporate accurate, standards-based, and developmentally appropriate health and science information and curricula in child care and education through the university level
4. Support and expand local efforts to provide adult education, English language instruction, and culturally and linguistically appropriate health information services in the community
5. Build partnerships, develop guidance and change policies
6. Increase basic research and the development, implementation, and evaluation of practices and interventions to improve health literacy
7. Increase the dissemination and use of evidence-based health literacy practices and interventions

The FLC is really excited to see a national cohesive effort that will include doctors, clinics, nurses, teachers, tutors… and EVERYONE else to see significant progress in the field of health literacy.

Spread the news and brainstorm what YOU can do at your workplace and for your community, and then tell us about it.  Make comments below or on a forum in FLC’s Health Literacy Ning site!