To make informed health decisions, individuals need to be able to access and understand health information.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) defines health literacy as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information needed to make appropriate health decisions.” This information could include prescription bottles, medical questionnaires, appointment forms, and treatment procedures.
Findings from a 2020 UnitedHealth Group report included health literacy as a key component in driving better health outcomes and improving health care affordability. The report focused on health literacy among Medicare beneficiaries and found that increasing health literacy rates among counties in the United States would lead to approximately 993,000 fewer hospitalizations and over $26.4 billion in potential savings per year.
How to improve health literacy rates among members
Health literacy is a significant barrier to health care and unfortunately, adults ages 65 and older, members of minority groups, individuals with low education, and those with low incomes are less likely to be health literate.
While efforts are being made to address health literacy on global, national, and local scales, there is still a significant need for payers and providers to be more active in developing and employing strategies to meet the language and literacy needs of diverse populations.
Increasing health literacy rates among members will reduce administrative costs and offer members better access to care, but this can be a challenging feat for payers and providers.
Here’s what you can do to better support your members:
In 2019, only 15 percent of Americans reported feeling a “great deal” of confidence in the U.S. medical system. Lack of trust and lack of confidence is costly and problematic for the community at large. And throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen just how powerful health literacy can be, with millions of Americans refusing vaccinations and masks due to distrust in the system.
In order to gain the trust of members, healthcare organizations need to focus on more patient-centered care. Payers and providers must acknowledge and address the comprehensive needs of their members and work with different stakeholders to provide more integrated care coordination. Understanding that health extends far beyond the medical setting, payers and providers can prioritize longer-term solutions to addressing health literacy.
Provide accessible information
Some members have language and cultural differences, which can make it difficult for them to understand their health plan, diagnosis, treatment schedules, or how to transfer their medical records.
Translated materials and interpreter services can be helpful in bridging language differences, but payers should also make all health information available in print, oral, and digital formats with easy-to-understand language and in multiple languages, if possible. Connecting members to health literacy classes can also bridge the gap in understanding.
The ultimate goal is to improve the lines of communication and ensure health resources are accessible and easy to follow. Simplifying a system or process, using FAQs or step-by-step guidelines, can make a significant difference.
Partner with community organizations
ESL education, health literacy classes, financial assistance, and other services are made available through community-based organizations (CBOs) and can be offered to members. Payers and providers should lean on the expertise of community partners who are equipped to handle the logistical, cultural, or emotional obstacles that face so many Americans.
By addressing non-medical needs through cross-sector, community-based partnerships, payers, and providers can lower costs while providing members with the knowledge required to make well-informed decisions around their own health. A cohesive, integrated system also allows payers and providers to use predictive analytical data to determine which services, programs, or initiatives would be most beneficial and pay for them accordingly.
Nearly 90 million Americans have low health literacy levels, according to the Center for Health Care Strategies, Inc. Individuals with low health literacy have a harder time accessing high-quality care as they experience high healthcare costs, greater hospital visits, lower rates of treatment compliance, and poor responsiveness to public health emergencies.
At Healthify, we understand the importance of SDoH and we’re working to ensure that no one’s health is hindered by their needs. You can learn about our platform and the services we offer here.