The current healthcare model places an increased demand on the patient being an active participant in his or her own health. Patients with low health literacy levels face an increased risk of not being engaged with their health, affecting the quality of care being delivered. Healthcare providers struggle with delivering materials for patients who come from diverse backgrounds, however, the blame goes beyond the various intellectual differences among patients. Physicians are routinely overworked, making them unable to spend the necessary time required with each patient to ensure they have a thorough understanding before they leave. For a patient to be an active participant in their health, the issue of health literacy must be addressed.
Patients with low levels of health literacy do not have the ability to make decisions regarding their health. This is due to their lack of familiarity with medical conditions, combined with their unwillingness to ask questions during medical visits and lack of familiarity with the medical context of provided materials. To combat this, materials should be written in an organized manner using a simple language that follows the reader’s logic. The readability level should be at a six-grade level or lower to help eliminate vocabulary that is unfamiliar to the recipients. Careful consideration must also be taken when translating the materials to a different language to make sure the translation is adapted to target audience’s literacy level.
Depending on the technological skills of the audience, video has been shown as an effective tool in combating health literacy issues and increasing patient engagement. Videos typically have a broader comprehension range and are best for engaging patients who have a visual learning style. Videos can be especially effective in explaining complex situations and showing how to perform various tasks, however, results can vary greatly depending on how comfortable the patient is with technology.
The goal behind many of the changes to healthcare is to fundamentally transform the industry to a more cost-effective system that helps keep people healthy, instead of simply treating them once they become sick. This goal cannot be met unless patients understand the necessary measures they are responsible for to remain healthy and help control/prevent chronic conditions. To avoid wasted time and money, careful consideration to the usability and readability of patient education materials is required.
To help make this process easier, we offer a free health literacy checklist.