October is Health Literacy Month

Health Literacy Month

Every single day, people find themselves in situations that require them to make decisions about their health. Many of these situations are not made when they are face-to-face with their healthcare provider. In fact, a majority of important health related decisions are made when people are alone and dealing with often unfamiliar and even complex information. Reading nutrition labels at the grocery store, trying to figure out what over the counter medicine to take, how much medicine they should give their child, what insurance they should choose, what their insurance covers, and what benefits are available to them.

A recent study found that approximately one-third of adults find health-related tasks like those mentioned above challenging. That is why Health Literacy Month is so important. This month is the perfect time for organizations and individuals to promote the importance of understandable health information. The theme this year is “Be a Health Literacy Hero.” It’s about taking action and finding ways to improve health communication. Health Literacy Heroes can be individuals, teams, organizations, or anyone who not only identifies health literacy problems but also acts to solve them.

What is Health Literacy and Why is it Important?

Health literacy doesn’t only refer to someone’s ability to read. It is the ability to read and comprehend health and healthcare related terminology, numbers, documents, test results, and other informational readings. Health literacy also refers to the ability to act and make decisions based on relevant health information, such as nutrition labels. According to the National Institutes of Health and The Benefits Guide, low health literacy can result in:

  • Improper or less frequent use of preventive services
  • Inability to correctly fill out paperwork
  • Increased chance of taking medications incorrectly
  • Poor control of chronic conditions
  • Above average emergency room visits and hospitalizations
  • Inability to fully understand and take advantage of health benefits

Having low health literacy not only impacts the individual, but it also impacts the employers and the economy as a whole. Low health literacy contributes to more sick days, reduced productivity and increased medical costs. As stated by Mercer, low health literacy costs the U.S. economy an estimated $238 billion annually.

How To Improve Employee Health Literacy

As an employer, working to improve health communication can reduce health care costs and increase quality of healthcare for employees. Listed below are ways employers can help employees improve their health literacy, whether your workforce has returned to the office or if they are still working remotely.

  • Provide Quality and Detailed Explanations of Benefits: Provide resources that fully explain in detail what copays, deductibles and out-of-pocket limits are so employees can better understand how they could get billed for unexpected costs. Remember that all employees learn in different ways, so offer explanations in different ways, like printed documents, infographics, videos, PowerPoints, ect.
  • Break Down the Medical Jargon: Medical information can be complicated and packed with confusing jargon, so make an effort to share easy to understand information from reputable sources. The Benefits Guide recommends using resources from Medline.
  • Offer Multiple Translations: If you have employees who speak different languages, be sure to offer translations of medical information so you can make sure they are fully understanding everything. Many websites already offer information in both Spanish and English, and many other languages can be found or translated to as well.
  • Include Picture-Based Information: This will help employees who may have lower literacy skills or just a preference for visual learning. The Benefits Guide cites the World Health Organization and Medium for having great infographics and image-heavy health tips to choose from.
  • Schedule Seminars, Webinars or “Lunch and Learns”: These kind events can easily be done virtually, which can help you reach more of your employees. Have an HR representative talk about the benefits your organization offers and explain common health terminology. You may even be able to have local doctors or public health employees speak about specific health topics. Also, remember to encourage questions and allow plenty of time the Q&A.
  • Give Quality Tools. For those that like to do their own research, make sure you provide quality tools for them to use, such as an online healthcare glossary, digital pamphlets, brochures, and other easily accessible educational materials.

For more information on improving employee health literacy, visit Mercer or The Benefits Guide. To learn more about Health Literacy Month and how you can get involved, click here!

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