Think about your favorite book. It probably kept you turning page after page because it had an engaging storyline, a relatable character, or a situation that resonated in some way with your personal life. Authors tell a story. Yet as healthcare communicators, the story is often removed and what’s left is information. The healthcare industry, however, faces an extraordinary challenge. A Health Affairs study showed that most Americans do not understand basic health insurance terminology. Bridging the gap between information and engagement is a critical piece of health literacy communication.
When your doctor prescribes a medication for your child, do you know what the correct dosage is or how to measure it?
Are you comfortable asking your doctor questions when you receive a lab report and don’t understand the results?
If you can answer “yes” to these questions, you might have high health literacy, says Jodi Duckhorn, a social scientist and Director of Risk Communications at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
As members of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) health literacy team, we are committed to promoting the use of health literacy principles. We recently took a deep dive into the online user experience to write the second edition of Health Literacy Online: A Guide to Simplifying the User Experience, and are honored to have been recognized with a Clear Mark Award for our efforts. We learned a lot about the challenges many people face using health websites. We wanted to share some lessons we learned with those of you who are involved in creating online health content—writers and editors, content managers, digital strategists, user experience strategists, web designers, developers, and other public health communication professionals.
Health professionals have the challenging job of translating the jargon they learned in professional school to everyday language that people can understand. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has help in the form of the AHRQ Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit, Second Edition.
What if the universal precautions approach to health literacy really were universal?
Modeled after medicine’s universal precautions approach to infection control that treats all bodily fluids as they were infectious, this health literacy strategy is well accepted as one that improves communication: Assume it’s hard for all patients to understand health information and to use the health care system.
My group won the ClearMark Grand Prize in 2013. We were thrilled! My colleague and I graciously accepted the award and headed for champagne at the bar next door. I lugged the trophy home to New York and proudly displayed it for everyone to see. Our new medical director seemed impressed—nothing like getting a few brownie points with the new boss.
I won employee of the month for leading health literacy/plain language efforts at the March of Dimes. This got me flowers, my name on a plaque, a free lunch and an up-close employee-of-the-month parking space. I was the queen of plain language. I had the trophy and the parking space.