Health literacy is an important aspect of positive health care outcomes. It is therefore everyone’s responsibility in the industry to ensure health literacy is considered throughout the entire process of delivering care. Everyone runs the risk at some point with their own health of being sick, frightened or overwhelmed with new information and not knowing or misunderstanding the information or instructions presented to them.
Health care literacy is the ability to obtain, process and understand basic health care information, facts, and services needed to make appropriate health care decisions. This means a person needs the ability to read, and also the ability to understand written communication, numbers and math in order to follow communication from insurers and providers.
Most healthcare information is written at the 10th grade reading level or higher. However, the average adult reads at the 8th grade level and 20% of the general population reads at a fifth grade level or lower.
This type of disconnect is highlighted in a recent study of Texans by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and the Episcopal Health Foundation, which found that participants in the healthcare system lack confidence in understanding basic health insurance terms. Those that purchased individual plans knew little about how coinsurance 48%, max-out-of-pocket 42%, deductible 33%, premium 30%, covered services 27%, provider network 26%, and co-pay 24% is applied to their plans. Respondents who had employer-sponsored insurance faired better with their percentages ranging from 35% to 13% for the same terminology.
Some state legislators and healthcare professionals are working to create transparency within the system. They are requiring easy-to-understand information about cost, quality, providers and services be made available so consumers can make more informed decisions. Health literacy coalitions continue to provide best practices on how to improve provider-patient communication and how to utilize plain language in written and oral communication in everyday health care settings.
The American Medical Association reports that health literacy is a stronger predictor of a person’s health status than age, income, employment status, education level or race. So it’s important. And employers have an opportunity in October as it’s National Health Literacy month to provide employees with transparency tools, refresh their knowledge on insurance terms and usage and stress the overall goal of being a health literate consumer in this new era of healthcare reform.
Source: Hospitals &Health Networks. Insurance Terms Beyond the Grasp of Many. May 2016. PP19.