Healthcare Literacy – What Most People Don’t Understand

Health Literacy is defined as “the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions”. However, over 88% of Americans are not actually “health literate”. That means that nearly 9 out of 10 adults lack the skills needed to manage their healthcare. Further, the average patient reads at about a 5th grade level when it comes to healthcare. And unfortunately, the medical field and health insurance is only growing more complex.

That doesn’t seem possible, right? Well it does when you think about it, health literacy is dependent on many factors including: 

Factors contributing to low Health Literacy

  • Language barriers – an individual must possess the skills of reading and writing in English, speaking and listening in English
  • People don’t understand medical and technical terminology
  • It’s a lot of work to learn something new, it’s much easier to be complacent
  • The medical field by nature is intimidating
  • People must be computer literate
  • Patients need to be articulate enough to convey their health concerns and describe their symptoms
  • Forms are complex and locating the proper providers and services can be difficult
  • Lack in ability to choose between medical plans, compare drug coverage, or calculate premiums, co-pays and deductibles
  • Often a company offers programs such as HSA’s, HRA’s or FSA’s – people overwhelmingly do not understand how to use these accounts
  • The older generation (highest care users) is not used to such a technologically advanced system

When is Health Literacy Necessary 

  • Reading discharge instructions (getting out of the hospital)
  • Understanding health education information
  • Reading insurance statements
  • Paying medical bills
  • Reading nutritional information
  • Understanding prescriptions, dosage instructions and drug interactions
  • Understanding immunization schedules and preventive care schedules

So it makes sense that individuals with lower literacy skills have poor health outcomes and are at a significantly higher risk. They also pay significantly more for their care. Those with low literacy pay almost $2,500 more for medications and $500 more for office visits.

Addressing the low health literacy epidemic requires a set of strategies to engage employees on their terms. 

How to engage employees

With the rising costs of healthcare, it’s important to address health literacy head on. Aim to understand the contributing factors to your employees’ healthcare illiteracy and implement programs to combat them. To learn more about health literacy options, read our health literacy guide. Achieving success in this field requires that management and employees work together to create an environment that takes the complexity out of healthcare.