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Low Health Literacy, High Health Costs

Anna Webster, for HealthLeaders Media, August 3, 2011

“What factor is the strongest indicator of an individual’s health status? Is it age, income level, race, or literacy? Would it surprise you to know that it is literacy skills?” says Barbara A. DeBuono, MD, MPH, chair of the Board for Partnership for Clear Health Communication at NPSF. “While some groups, particularly the elderly and poor, are at risk, all populations are at risk.”

Confusing signage or medical jargon can leave a patient lost, both physically within a healthcare facility and in terms of the direction of their care. Here's where marketers need to step in to create a clearer path of communication to reach these patients.

“You come out of that examination room with the intelligent man or woman thinking, ‘God, I hope I don’t make a mistake with my medicine’,” says a lupus patient with a fifth-grade reading level in an interview with the American College of Physicians. “I did not understand anything he or she was saying.”

The challenge is finding a way to reach these audiences to encourage them to engage in their healthcare. Experts recommend assuming that everyone may have difficulty understanding and creating an environment where all patients can thrive.

Removing literacy-related barriers will improve care for all patients, regardless of their level of health literacy.

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