More health literature is available to patients than ever before, but the most up-to-date, comprehensive medical information is often inaccessible to those who need it most.
Health and medical publications contain great information about a wide range of health concerns, but these publications tend to be written by those who have medical expertise but not the ability to translate complex, technical concepts into language everyday readers can grasp. At the same time, the internet is so full of health advice that it can be hard to tell what's credible and accurate from what's not.
October is Health Literacy Month, which makes it the perfect time to think about how keeping your members better informed can help keep them healthy.
The Risks of Health Illiteracy
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those with a better knowledge of health terminology are more likely to understand what they need to do to best maintain their health. They're better able to follow doctors' orders, wellness recommendations and prescription instructions. In turn, they're healthier and less likely to need expensive medical care through their insurance plans.
Lower health literacy correlates with higher rates of costly mental, physical and chronic conditions, according to nonprofit ProLiteracy. And those with low health literacy are 2.3 times more likely to go to an emergency room than their more health literate counterparts.
Unreliable Sources of Health Information
Looking up health questions and concerns online means that answers are just seconds away, and those answers are usually given in much simpler language than that used on, say, a prescription bottle.
But while the advice found online might be easier to take advantage of, and some websites are credible and legitimate, many online purveyors of health information offer half truths, outdated research and sometimes even blatant falsehoods. Often these websites' goal is to sell a product rather than provide accurate information — pushing diet supplements or weight-loss programs that may have little or no scientific basis.
Health Literacy and Your Members
To improve health literacy among your members, provide them with digital access to a patient portal including articles that explain conditions, treatments, prevention steps and other important information in easy-to-understand language, as well as infographics and videos to help reach those who prefer learning visually. Consider offering plans that include telemedicine options that allow patients to consult with a health care provider over the phone to clear up any lingering areas of confusion.
At the same time, educate members on how to evaluate the credibility of health information on the web. Teach them key factors to look out for — from who's hosting the information to how current it is — and give them the names of reliable sites to bookmark, for example the Mayo Clinic or the Cleveland Clinic.
Finding — and being able to use — accurate and relevant health care information can be complicated, but providing members the tools to sharpen their health literacy is a simple, cost-effective way to help keep them healthy.
Phil Britt has worked as a journalist for 40 years, specializing in business issues for the last 30. His work covering the steel industry and its labor issues has been referenced in books, while his articles have appeared on numerous websites, national and international publications. Among current and past clients have been the American Medical Association, Afcom, the Credit Union National Association, Independent Banker, EH Publishing, the Southeast Chicago Development Commission, the Northwest Indiana Times and Insurance & Technology Magazine, just to name a few.