Health literacy: a national priority

A recent article in the Atlantic argues that increasing health literacy should be a national priority, citing that 35% of Americans  - particularly among  groups who are eligible for coverage under the new laws – have only basic or below-basic health literacy.
Our Interaction Design team shares our own best practices for addressing this trend and driving behavior. Read on.

For health plan clients, low health literacy results in member frustration, flooded call centers, and dissatisfaction with brand.

So how do we engage populations that span the full spectrum of health literacy levels with targeted communications about complex healthcare concepts? Here are just a few examples.

Level-setting in the post-reform world: Think the average man on the street knows what the ACA is? Then you haven’t seen this Jimmy Kimmel video.

So when we’re speaking with members about the ACA, we make sure we set a strong cognitive foundation for our communication –spelling out what it stands for both literally (as in, Affordable Care Act) and conceptually (as in, helping more people get health coverage at a lower cost).

We also take the opportunity to reassure members that there are resources available to make it easier to navigate things like a state-sponsored exchange – from defining what an “exchange” is to connecting them with information-packed web sites and phone numbers.

Helping members really understand their benefits: New coverage can mean a lot of things for people – including a lot of new terminology.  We take the time to explain what we mean by phrases like  “grandfathered plan” or “ambulatory” and “inpatient care” – using simple language that doesn’t presume anything…so that there are no surprises down the road.

Source: Urban Institute Health Policy Center Source: Urban Institute Health Policy Center


Improving low health-literacy in Medicaid populations: While the industry focuses a lot on the reading level of literature related to Medicaid benefits, the irony is that many states mandate terms that are multi-syllabic and very high-lit when describing their benefits.

For example, the term ‘redetermination’ is often used when referring to the process of renewing coverage. It’s as difficult to read as it is to conceptualize. Eliza works with state Medicaid plans to identify these difficult terms and find ways to create a rapport with people by commiserating over the challenge and explaining what we mean in plain language.

Check out how Eliza outreach effectively did this to dramatically increase recertification rates for one of our Medicaid clients.

As more people are expected to make their own decisions in healthcare, we want to be there to empower them with communications that attract their attention, occupy their focus, drive behavior – all in language they can understand.


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