October is Health Literacy Month. Health literacy is such a critical topic, as health literacy disparities can affect a person’s diagnoses, course of treatment, and condition management. Started by Helen Osborne in 1999, “Health Literacy Month is a time of observance when hospitals, health centers, literacy programs, libraries, social service agencies, businesses, professional associations, government agencies, consumer alliances, and many other groups can work collaboratively to draw attention to, and develop local capacity for, addressing this important issue.”
Once again, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Lightbeam Clinical Transformation Advisor, Christine DiNoia, BSN, RN, on the Population Health Podcast to discuss the topic of health literacy. As a registered nurse, Christine’s clinical expertise and her advisory knowledge made her an ideal resource for this important topic.
Christine, for those who do not know, how do you define health literacy?
In short, health literacy can be defined as how well a person can learn and understand health information to determine the care and services they need. A person’s health literacy level is their understanding of what their medical condition or conditions entail, knowing how to take the right medications, proper self-management, and decision-making for how they want to proceed with treatment. According to the CDC, as taken from Title V of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, health literacy is defined as “the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions.” However, the government organization, Healthy People 2030, has expanded the definition of health literacy to include organizational health literacy in addition to just personal.
Why is this such a prevalent issue, and what are the impacts of health literacy?
Nine out of 10 adults struggle to understand and use health information for many reasons. It may boil down to their unfamiliarity with medical vocabulary, social determinants of health (SDOH), and other limitations. Research has shown that limited health literacy has been linked to low preventative service use, poor condition management, and self-reported health, causing unnecessary hospital admissions, utilization, and medication misuse. Health literacy is riddled with complexities; while there are no concrete studies to determine the full impact of costs, we know that limited health literacy has a substantial financial impact on the healthcare system and results in higher morbidity and mortality.
A side of health literacy I would like to draw attention to is that individuals who are not literate in health information often feel ashamed for their lack of knowledge. As a result, they may conceal their struggles from providers to not seem uninformed or uneducated. Healthcare providers must understand and adapt to their needs to create an encouraging environment.
What are some things we can do as a healthcare community to help expand health literacy?
Any information that a caregiver creates or directs a patient to should be evidence-based, accurate, and accessible based on that patient’s existing level of health literacy or personal circumstances. Make information finding easy for them while paying attention to their SDOH needs to recommend resources at their level of understanding. The Department of Health and Human Services devised a National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy in 2010. Its tenets are an excellent place to start, with seven goals to ensure success. However, the implementation of these goals comes back to the cohesion, communication, and determination of staff to improve the patient’s perception of healthcare.
The Institute for Healthcare Advancement (IHA) created a Health Literacy Month Handbook for the Health Literacy Month Initiative to plan and market health literacy events. Some examples of how organizations can promote health literacy include:
- Hosting educational workshops for patients to learn more about health literacy or condition management
- Running prescription safety sessions to ensure medications are taken correctly
- Publishing a health literacy newsletter
- Sponsoring educational programs for staff
How can Lightbeam help our clients foster health literacy in their patient populations?
Lightbeam’s solutions offer several ways to incorporate materials to promote a patient’s health literacy wherever they stand. Within the platform, we can add medication education tailored to a patient’s care plan. We can also embed organization-approved links into a patient’s assessment documentation to provide easy access to educational material for patients to print and use. Within the assessments themselves, we can customize the documentation by including in-office handouts and flyers and even embed SDOH questionnaires. We can also link to Aunt Bertha, an online network that identifies social services available in a specific geographic area, including aid for food, housing, goods, transportation, health, care, and other necessities.
For more information on health literacy, visit:
Laurel Derr is Lightbeam’s Marketing & Event Coordinator.