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Health Literacy: Why it Matters and How to do it Right

23 October 2020

In the United States, 45 Million Americans cannot read past a 5th grade reading level, 50% of adults cannot read past an 8th grade reading level, and ¾ of Americans on welfare cannot read at all (Home - Literacy Project Foundation). This stands in strong contrast to the fact that most healthcare materials are written at a 10th grade reading level (Safeer and Keenan 2005) , which means that less than half of all adult Americans understand the health information provided to them by clinicians.

This fundamental disconnect between the literacy level of Americans and the medical/healthcare community publications and information, has created a huge gap between clinicians and patients in terms of health literacy, which directly causes “poor compliance, uncontrolled chronic disease, and rising healthcare costs” (Health Literacy | NNLM) 

Health literacy by definition is "the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions."(Health Literacy | NNLM ). It’s clear we have a health literacy problem in the United States. To bridge the health literacy gap, medical professionals, healthcare organizations, life science companies and medical manufacturers must redesign how information is presented and delivered to consumers, so that healthcare outcomes are not based on one’s reading level, but are based on access to information that is digestible and actionable for all. 

"The good news is that today, more so than ever before, technology and other forms of communication, other than traditional written communication, exist to bridge the literacy gap and therefore, the ability to translate information and understanding to all consumers, regardless of reading level."

The good news is that today, more so than ever before, technology and other forms of communication, other than traditional written communication, exist to bridge the literacy gap and therefore, the ability to translate information and understanding to all consumers, regardless of reading level. Technology has enabled content to be delivered via images, videos, whiteboard animations, text messages, interactive mobile applications, music, voice messages and more, in addition to written text. This transformation of communication of information that has traditionally taken only written form is a strong step toward better compliance, adherence, and management of disease for all Americans.

The OptimizeRx digital health and communications platform enables manufacturers or retention agencies to manage and deliver all kinds of educational and treatment support collateral and patient support from a single infrastructure, thereby addressing the need to provide content that is accessible to patients of all education levels.

Consider this recent case study, in which a pharma client faced a steep barrier to adherence due to a negative side-effect profile. We helped them implement a multi-pronged engagement strategy, delivering digestible content via text message, in addition to live nurse support to ensure that every patient had an opportunity to “see” or “hear” important side-effect information.

In short, we all must remember that meeting patients where they are is critical to positive treatment outcomes. If important treatment information or support programs are heavily reliant on written ‘take-home’ literature or lengthy communications, we’re leaving many people behind.

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