What Does Health Literacy Really Mean?

Here at Trig we talk a lot about health literacy. We talk about how your employees (and just general) populations are not health literate and how important it is to our financial and personal wellbeing to improve on that. But what do we mean by healthcare literacy? And, what are some everyday examples of improving our literacy? We’ve got some answers for you, because in order to improve our collective literacy, we need to understand what it actually looks like. Some of the examples are so glaringly obvious that you may not have considered them to be practical issues.

So, let’s start with some examples of how someone can be health illiterate-

What does Health (Il)literacy look like?

  1. Not being able to read prescription directions

    This is an example of something that you may not have considered is happening within your company. A staggering amount of people are truly not able to follow basic medical instructions. A lot of this is due to the fact that we typically don’t learn how to use medical devices (think thermometer) from reading directions. We learn from watching others do it, likely your parents or school nurse when you were a child.

  2. Lack of empowerment

    This is admittedly more vague, because it covers a huge spectrum of problems. But most people struggle with things that others take for granted, like (actual) literacy or language issues. Much of the literature provided for treatment and assessing illnesses is written in such a complex way that any number of factors can have a hugely negative impact. People’s ability to be involved in their care is reduced and thus results in drastically poorer outcomes.

Believe it or not, the problems that I just described are representative of 77 million people in the US, those people also pay about $2,500 extra per year on medications alone. Now that we’ve established what being health illiterate looks like, we can move onto finding ways of helping people become more literate. Even though we cannot educate the world, we can make it easier and more comfortable to use resources that help to improve our ability to participate in our care.

When we’re talking about employee benefits, the problem becomes slightly easier. Why? Because you have the attention of your audience, and everybody is basically on the same health plan (or one of just a few). With that in mind, check out these ultra-easy ways to make sure that your employees are health literate –

Ways that you can improve Health literacy

  1. Make your health plan information available in plain language

    Remember when we said that most people aren’t able to fully comprehend their health information? Make sure that you give people a summary of their health plan. Be sure it’s written so anybody can understand it. Write down what a deductible is, and then what their deductible is. Explain that they have a health network, and how to find out if their doctor is in it. It isn’t necessarily hard, but requires some thinking through. More on that here.

  2. Encourage people to come to you or your colleagues with questions

    Unfortunately shame and embarrassment comes into play far more than you’d think. People are embarrassed that they don’t understand something and often times choose to ignore their symptoms or issues. Make sure that people know that they can come to company leadership with any questions and issues that they’re facing. Share examples of how leadership helps one another with seemingly basic healthcare issues. Check out this link for further ways that you can support your employees.

It may seem like a simple problem, with simple solutions. But failing to do these things can create new and more complex problems for you.