April 26, 2013


Health Literacy – Why is it important?

“Ignorance is bliss” may be true in most cases; but it is a misnomer when it comes to health literacy.  A study conducted by Kaiser Permanente and published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that patients with congestive heart failure and low health literacy are three times more likely to die in a given year than patients with better health literacy skills.

For instance, patients, with high deductible health plans, might be avoiding even basic preventive care like annual checkup, etc., simply because they do not know that preventive care does not attract any out of the pocket expenses as it is covered by the plan. It might also be because these patients have not  understood the benefits of their plan and hence avoid visiting the hospital.

Increasingly, stakeholders across the health care system have recognized the important link between health literacy and health status, and are advocating the necessity of  ‘clear communication’ to provide consumer health and benefits information that :

  • Is easy to access, understand, and act upon
  • Promotes consumer’s engagement in their own health
  • Results in better health outcomes

So what are the health plans doing to improve health literacy of the consumers?

Some common strategies that could be employed by various health plans to promote health literacy are:

  • Assessment of an organization to see if infrastructure exists to provide clear, easy to use information
  • Awareness sessions for the personnel who are involved in either written or spoken communication to promote health literacy
  • Adopt a target reading level for all communications, within and outside the organization
  • Standardize the jargons and acronyms used across organizations. This would require a joint effort from multiple organizations

In our next blog post we will examine how improved health literacy among Americans will impact the health of the patients and reduce the overall cost of health care.Read more about health care consulting.