Tips For Health Plans To Advance Health Literacy


Part of creating a patient-centric healthcare system is ensuring individuals are part of the conversation, whether they’re managing their health savings account, talking with their doctor, or navigating their insurance plan. But only 12% of the population has a proficient health literacy level, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy.Clearly, there is a significant of work to be done before all people can successfully engage in the healthcare process and have confidence in their healthcare decisions.

Defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions, health literacy is a critical skill for everyone—and health illiteracy is prevalent among people of all ages, incomes, races, and even education level. The link between health literacy and health status is driving more private and public healthcare organizations do their part to promote it. Here are some steps health plans can take to further their health literacy initiatives:

Create A Culture Of Health Literacy

Identify the strengths and weaknesses your organization’s employee health literacy plan. All healthcare professionals should receive practical training on health literacy and learn the skills they need to communicate effectively and improve the quality of care they provide. 

Collaborate With Your Partners

Your business partners—from Pharmacy Benefit Manager to network providers—can help further your health literacy plan. After all, you’re serving the same customer base and messaging consistency is key. Sharing materials and resources can help reduce duplication of efforts and make certain you’re working toward the same goals.

Develop Understandable and Actionable Communication Materials

Have you evaluated all of your policyholder communications—including letters, your website, and application materials—for clarity? Make it easy for people to understand statistics, action steps, and instructions. Follow best practices in content development and design: use headings, put most important pieces of information first, break information up into chunks, choose readable fonts, write with “plain language,” use the active voice, and include images.

Employ Translation Or Interpreter Services

Addressing any cultural or linguistic preferences of your customers will increase the likelihood that they’ll understand what you’re communicating.

Use Technology As A Tool

Websites, smartphone apps, videos, and even social media are being employed as popular communication tools. Poor health literacy can make it more difficult for people to adopt healthier behavior, so providing policyholders with content in web-based formats they are comfortable using in their everyday lives can make it easier and more convenient for them to research health conditions, find providers, and share information.

Involve Policyholders In Your Process

Including members of the target population in developing, implementing, and evaluating materials can help you see where they may be struggling, where they need the most assistance, and what topics or materials demand the most reworking. They can help you identify unnecessary technical or medical jargon, hard-to-understand statistics, and demonstrate how they use the tools you provide to “get from point A to B.”

Focus on What’s Important

Advancing health literacy is not about “dumbing down” important information. It’s about providing clear, understandable communications that can make it easier for people to:

  • Take action, such as getting necessary medical tests or acting on public health alerts;
  • Make more educated decisions when choosing health plans and treatments, for example; and
  • Manage chronic diseases like high blood pressure or diabetes and engage in more effective self-care.

Healthcare reform is enabling more people are entering our healthcare system, so there has never been a better time to address the issue of health literacy. Explore these resources to learn more about health literacy and how your organization can help ensure that every American has access to accurate and actionable health information:

For help developing an organizational health literacy action plan, refer to Making Health Literacy Real: The Beginnings of My Organization’s Plan for Action from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For more information about regional health literacy initiatives, visit Health literacy activities by state  from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For help developing communications materials, see the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s Guide to Writing and Designing Easy-to-Use Health Web Sites.

For more insights specific to health plans, including details on how health plans have already taken action on health literacy, explore Americas Health Insurance Plans’ Health Literacy Tools.  




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