Ensuring that written materials are easy to understand and use often starts with plain language best practices and includes field testing to “test” the content, format, and messages with the intended audience. Developers agree that user-centered design and feedback from intended audiences are critically important to developing clear, understandable, and useable information. However, there are often challenges to soliciting meaningful input from the “right” audience members, specifically, those with low literacy or low health literacy.
Okay, raise your hand if you like to win.
Now, keep it up if you like to be recognized for your great work.
And, keep it up if you LOVE filling out long forms and writing up a check request for the entry fee for an awards program for which your odds of winning are just slightly better than the average Powerball drawing.
With the 2010 enactment of the Plain Writing Act and National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy, the development and dissemination of health information that was accurate, accessible and actionable became the focus of regulatory agencies and the medical industry they monitor. The National Action Plan promoted changes to the healthcare industry by requiring improved research communication and medication labeling with the end goal of more-informed decision making by both doctors and patients.
A friend on Facebook recently posted, “I just got an email from Blue Cross urging me to ‘use my benefits’ because the end of the year is coming. Honestly have no idea what to make of that.” Especially since after two emergency room visits, “I have super definitely ‘used my benefits’ this year.”
Writing for health insurance customers is tough.
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).