Health IT

An illustration of the challenge low health literacy poses to outcomes (infographic)

One of the biggest challenges that healthcare professionals face is figuring out the level of health literacy their patients possess so they can convey information in a way that’s understandable to them. If they don’t, there is the strong possibility that patients won’t follow medication and other instructions and their health won’t improve. It’s particularly […]

One of the biggest challenges that healthcare professionals face is figuring out the level of health literacy their patients possess so they can convey information in a way that’s understandable to them. If they don’t, there is the strong possibility that patients won’t follow medication and other instructions and their health won’t improve.

It’s particularly problematic for individuals with chronic conditions, as a healthcare infographic from Health Literacy Innovations illustrates. These are patients that providers need to pay special attention to if they want to avoid penalties for unnecessary readmissions.

A recent Journal of American Medical Association article drew attention to the problem, according to Reuters. As much as people like to Google medical keywords, a lot of the information on medical association websites such as the American Psychiatric Association is geared to people with high school or college level reading and comprehension. But millions of Americans possess a fourth to sixth grade level. Language barriers can also pose challenges as well as basic literacy. In short — there’s too much jargon.

Some companies are also developing ways to reduce or eliminate medical jargon to improve patient engagement. From a longterm perspective, Florida startup Shadow Health developed a physical exam simulator for nursing school and medical school students which forces users to speak in conversational English. If they don’t, the patient says he doesn’t understand. Other companies such as Seamless Medical SystemsMana Health and Health Literacy Innovations are taking different approaches that integrate health literacy with patient engagement.