Health Literacy Issue

Tuesday’s (7/24/07) USA Today had an article on page 8D talking about Health Literacy.  Based on a study of 3,260 Medicare beneficiaries, the authors of an article published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that “those with inadequate health literacy were 52% more likely to have died than those with adequate health literacy”.

This gets right to the point of healthcare communications.  It is critical to understand how to deliver information and what words to use.  Unfortunately, this applies to people even with health literacy such as physicians.  I have seen healthcare communications to go to doctors talking about fluoxetine and lovastatin (for example).  Since many doctors don’t know all the chemical names of drugs, they might not know that this was talking about Prozac (fluoxetine) and Mevacor (lovastatin).  When we provided generic samples to physicians, some of them didn’t use our first batch because it only had the generic name on it, and they couldn’t be 100% sure of what it was.

So, with patients this is even more critical.  When you are wrapped up in healthcare, it is easy to think that everyone thinks like you.  For example, a patient doesn’t understand what a renewal prescription is.  This is the term for a refill when there are no open refills on your prescription.  You can’t simply refill.  You have to get your physician to write you a new Rx (i.e., a renewal).

So, literacy has a micro issue which is clarity of terminology and simplicity of messaging to deliver valuable and timely information which consumers can take action on.  It also has a macro issue which is driving literacy in general such that labels, physician’s instructions, and other information is understood.

This could certainly be an argument for voice based communications for which I am a big advocate.  This could also be an argument for multi-lingual communications so you can avoid issues like once a day being interpreted as 11 per day (since once means 11 in Spanish).

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