It should come as no surprise that strong health literacy is associated with more positive health outcomes.
Health literacy — that is, an individual’s ability to understand and utilize information on health and medical care — is an important part of being able to advocate for yourself in a healthcare setting, whether that’s at the emergency room or a routine check-up. In one 2022 study, researchers found that hospital patients with poor health literacy were more likely to revisit the hospital 90 days after discharge than patients with adequate health literacy.
But developing a strong sense of health literacy can be difficult — especially since a good deal of medical literature and information is presented in complex, inaccessible language. Even more challenging is developing a strong sense of health literacy when you have visual impairments that make it difficult to read this information in the first place.
On its own, then, accessible language isn’t enough — healthcare providers also need to ensure blind and low-vision patients have access to health information in alternative formats like braille, audio recordings, and large print. In providing a breadth of information in various accessible formats, healthcare providers can promote improved health outcomes for all of their patients.
The beginning of October marks National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a time to highlight the importance of making healthcare information and services accessible to all individuals, regardless of their abilities. In this blog post, we’ll explore the crucial role of health literacy in achieving positive health outcomes and explore ways to improve health literacy using accessible language and alternative formats.
The Importance of Health Literacy
The vast majority of people in the US have limited health literacy — according to Pfizer, just 12% of people in the nation are proficient when it comes to their health literacy.
Health literacy isn’t necessarily about being able to understand medical jargon or decipher dense medical texts — after all, regular patients can’t be expected to understand health and medicine at the same level as trained doctors, nurses, or pharmacists.
Health literacy, then, is more about being able to parse through the information a doctor or healthcare provider gives you in a way that allows you to make informed decisions about your well-being. Individuals who are health literate are better prepared to navigate the healthcare system and can play a more active role in their medical care.
People with limited health literacy often struggle to fully understand their health conditions. They may also struggle with figuring out how to properly apply their medications and maintain good health overall. Consequently, they may experience poorer overall health, higher healthcare costs, and an increased likelihood of rehospitalization and mortality.
On the other hand, individuals with better health literacy are more likely to experience improved health outcomes. They can better comprehend basic health information, communicate effectively with healthcare providers, and make informed decisions about their care.
As such, it’s in everyone’s best interest to close the gaps in health literacy. With a more health literate population, hospitals can reduce readmission rates, in turn lowering the amount of stress placed on our healthcare system and improving health outcomes for society as a whole.
Accessible Language, Alternative Formats and Health Literacy: Bringing it All Together
One of the first steps to closing gaps in health literacy is to ensure that patient-facing documents and other materials are provided in accessible language. That means language that’s welcoming and easy to understand. While there’s a time and place for medical jargon, it’s important that complex topics are presented in a way that’s actually meaningful to the patient.
If you’re looking to provide patients with information that can boost their health literacy, you may want to look at some of your pre-existing materials — flyers, brochures, webpages, etc. may benefit from a complete rehaul to clean things up. It’s important for every step of the patient journey to be as accessible and understandable as possible — from scheduling appointments online to informational pamphlets about a specific health condition.
Read our guide on plain language to learn more about how you can present information to patients in an easily understandable fashion that sheds light on their health condition. Here are just a few of the benefits of using accessible language with your patients:
- Building Trust: Providing accessible information builds trust between healthcare providers and patients, fostering better relationships.
- Autonomy & Self-Advocacy: Accessible language empowers individuals to take charge of their health, make informed decisions, and advocate for themselves.
- Community Advocacy: When individuals can access easily understandable information, they are more likely to encourage others in their community to seek healthcare services and advocate for their own needs.
- Enhanced Communications: Effective communication results in clearer understanding and better health outcomes.
- Health Equity: Improving the accessibility of health-related information can reduce disparities in health literacy, promoting equity and equal access to information and services for all patients.
However, we shouldn’t stop at accessible language. Some groups face unique barriers when it comes to health literacy. For example, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have noted that individuals with visual impairments may struggle more in honing their health literacy skills due to the fact that they’re less able to access certain visual cues that can aid them in deciphering relevant medical texts.
As such, it’s important to refine this approach by making sure that relevant materials are accessible in alternative formats for people with visual impairments. Here are a few examples of alternative formats that can be used to ensure that people of diverse abilities are able to access your content:
- Large Print
- Audio CDs
- Data CDs
Once you’ve written your materials in accessible language, it’s time to work with an alternative format service provider to make sure that your content is accessible for every patient. By providing patients with accessible information in various alternative formats, you can help elevate your patients’ health literacy and improve outcomes for all.
As we recognize National Disability Employment Awareness Month this year, we encourage healthcare providers to take the following steps to promote health literacy:
- Review the content you’re providing to patients and identify documents and other materials that could be more accessible.
- Devise a plan to improve those materials by using more accessible and patient-friendly language.
- Work with an alternative format service provider to make sure that those materials are also accessible to your visually impaired patients.
At Avantpage, we’re committed to supporting healthcare organizations in their journey toward improved accessibility. We offer a comprehensive range of alternative format services, including audio, braille, and large print, to ensure that healthcare information is accessible to all — if you’re looking to boost health literacy among your patients, contact us today at [email protected] or (530) 750-2040.