Boosting health literacy helps improve patient outcomes

In promoting your facility or practice, use clear and simple language to ensure comprehension. Guide your practitioners to ask questions that bring patient perspectives into sharp focus.

Health care messages can be complex.

You have stakeholders, opinions, requirements, jargon and details that are indecipherable to the average person. To reach and move your audience and to improve outcomes and quality, you must help people understand what they are reading or hearing.

Nine out of 10 Americans have some difficulty with health information. Three out of 10 Americans struggle with basic health messages, such as prescription label directions or hospital discharge information.

People who struggle with health literacy may feel embarrassed asking questions or don’t want to look stupid. In a doctor’s office or at a nurse’s station, many people will listen and nod without questioning things. In day-to-day life, a person will read, watch, listen and move on.

Step outside what you think you have to communicate, and measure your message by its accessibility. That doesn’t mean dumbing down a message or talking down to people, but organizing your thoughts and conveying information in a way that everyone will understand.

Here are three recommendations to follow when developing content:

  • Keep it plain and simple. Use short, common words. Ask yourself whether it’s “living-room language.” Avoid jargon or terminology that you might understand but that might be unfamiliar to someone else. If you have to use a complicated word, define it.
  • Write shorter sentences. Be concise. Content is much easier to read and digest when each sentence contains just one idea.
  • Use concrete language. For example, if your doctor tells you to exercise regularly, he or she could mean every day, three times a week or even just once a month. If you want people to understand a message or follow directions, use specific terms so the reader, viewer or listener doesn’t have to guess your meaning.

After auditing your work, get the patient’s perspective by asking three simple questions:

  • What is the problem? What is the condition and what caused it? What is the treatment?
  • What can we do about it? Consider it a “now what?” perspective. What action should the patient take? It’s not always a marketing message (visit, click, learn more, call, etc.). Sometimes it’s just something to know and understand. If you do make a call to action, add details. Learn more about what? Click to do what? Visit where? Call and do what?
  • Why is it important? People have to know why something is important to be motivated to take action. That includes explaining what can go wrong if they don’t follow your suggestions.

People look for health information when they suspect they have a problem or have been diagnosed with an illness. You—and your practitioners—have to reach them in the most understandable way possible.

That’s important when you’re communicating crucial health information—and when you are trying to build your brand by conveying the differences between your health system and that of your competition.

The original version of this post appeared here .

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