Health Literacy Equals Better Healthcare
While illiteracy may be a slowly dwindling social problem in the US, health illiteracy seems to be a growing one. According to the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), over one-third of adults in the U.S. had trouble receiving, understanding, and/or following through on common health tasks. A series of health literacy studies have shown that the greatest gap in comprehension lies between the reading level of the intended audience and the reading level of the material. In other words, the material is often too difficult for the reader to take in.
As a result, 90 million U.S. adults, almost half of the country’s current adult population, cannot perform simple health tasks such as understanding their own prescription labels or lab reports. Patients who fail to comprehend basic health information have healthcare costs four times higher than those who are health literate, averaging 6% more hospital visits.
Health illiteracy is the highest among those with limited education, limited proficiency in English, and the elderly – the same demographics affected by general illiteracy. In an effort to raise understanding among these three groups, healthcare providers have turned to digital media and other technological mediums. Healthcare-focused television, such as GoodHealthTV, provides patients with an audio and visual interpretation of health education, which can be easier to understand than information which is print-based. Videos are now also widely available on healthcare websites for easy access outside of hospital settings.
One of the most useful tools for better health literacy is the use of multi-lingual platforms. Television programs, mobile devices, websites, audio files, and print media have all become widely available in different languages to meet the demands of a culturally diverse population. This is particularly useful to patients who do not speak English, either fluently or at all.
Though providing patients with multi-lingual information outside of the hospital environment is helpful, integrating multiple languages into the hospital system itself can prove even more beneficial. For example, electronic waiting room boards would be understood by a wider audience when broadened to languages outside of English. If patients can understand more simply by addressing them in their native language, then health illiteracy is one step closer to being wiped out.
This is the stance that we at MyCareText took when developing for the hospital environment. We want everyone to benefit from proper healthcare knowledge, no matter what demographic they fit into. With this idea in mind, MyCareText was designed with multi-lingual texting abilities. This helps ensure that patients and their loved ones will be able to communicate with hospital staff regardless of their native language. The simple, concise messages relayed via the MyCareText system also provide easy understanding for those with limited reading comprehension skills.
Despite an increase in health illiteracy across the country, this is one problem which can be solved through innovation and persistence. Being able to comprehend basic health information is a necessity for patients to ensure proper treatment and follow through, and should thus be held as a high priority both in and outside of the medical field.