Content strategist Jennie Kim lays out the three components of a winning content strategy and...
Content of Care
In its Healthy People 2010 report, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion defines health literacy 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."1 Simply put, health literacy is the ability to read, understand and act on healthcare information, but from diagnoses and prescriptions to appointment slips and self-care instructions, it’s anything but straightforward for millions of Americans.
“Nearly half of all adult Americans do not understand their healthcare information,” says Aileen Kantor, a social entrepreneur who founded Bethesda, Md.-based Health Literacy Innovations (HLI) to tackle the problem of health illiteracy in the U.S., “and from rising costs, up to $236 billion annually, to poor health outcomes, it’s a dangerous and growing public health issue.”
While senior citizens, immigrants and the poor are likelier to have trouble processing health-related information, health illiteracy can affect anyone, regardless of age, education or income level. According to the Boston, Mass.-based National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF), “The majority of those with low literacy skills in the United States are white, native-born Americans.”2
Jargon-packed “medicalese” is part of the problem; another is the fear of speaking up. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, a health literacy leader, describes a “silent epidemic” of people too ashamed to admit their inability to read or comprehend health information.3
It’s a problem that demands plain language solutions, and as some managed care organizations, insurers and other industry players are discovering, simplifying the language and literacy of care is just what the doctor ordered.
Just as financial illiteracy produces money ills, health illiteracy is a well-documented path to painful outcomes. Dating to the early 1990s, a considerable body of research reveals the troubling association between poor literacy skills and poor, often fatal, health consequences.