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:
- Follow the Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit , which offers step-by-step guidance and tools for assessing your practice and making changes to better connect with patients on all literacy levels.
- 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.