Healthcare marketing efforts throughout the United States remain focused on addressing healthcare literacy in 2019. Large national studies have demonstrated that approximately one third of adult Americans have limited health literacy and describe feeling uncomfortable trying to navigate their medical benefits and the healthcare system. Among younger Americans the percentage is even higher with 56 percent reporting a lack of understanding.

Healthcare literacy refers to health literacy, which is an individual’s ability to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. Health insurance literacy is another component of healthcare literacy and represents the capability of people to have the knowledge to choose the best health plans and benefit options to fit their circumstances and then fully utilize the plan once they have enrolled.

Low healthcare literacy is linked to consumer confusion about how to shop and choose benefits. As a result, people take a passive approach to health care choices. A lack of understanding and passivity can lead to poor health outcomes such as higher rates of hospitalization and less frequent use of preventive services. The end result is higher healthcare costs for everyone.

The American Medical Association (AMA) and the federal government Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality are recommending a systematic approach to tackle health literacy. Marketers need to work with health plans and practices to develop strategic goals related to improving health literacy. Campaigns must be created for healthcare staff as well as patients. Increasing awareness requires working from the inside out. First steps for health plans include helping providers to deliver information during an office visit or telehealth visit that incorporates these suggested AMA tactics:

  • Explain things in plain English –meaning try to avoid medical terms and jargon. Instead, break information into understandable chunks that help motivate the patient to participate in their care and decisions.
  • Speak slowly and repeat information when discussing unfamiliar topics to the patient.
  • Focus on two or three key messages that highlight the main problem being treated, whey the person needs to do, and why it’s important to proceed.
  • Have patients repeat instructions back to providers in their own words.
  • Provide written information that is easy-to-understand and free of technical, medical jargon. Give take-home handouts with a clear explanation of what the patient needs to comprehend and actionable next steps.

Suggested marketing steps for a healthcare practice also include:

  • Developing an opt-in text reminder service, for upcoming patient appointment notifications.
  • Content creation for the office such as infographics, company intranet pages, or posters that define basic health terminology and how to explain key terms to patients.
  • Keeping patients informed about year-round treatments such as preventive and wellness management opportunities.
  • Using social media to educate the public and keep them informed about the latest health-related news.
  • Creating video content that explains a practice’s mission statement and treatment focus.

Healthcare marketing also must capitalize on multichannel communications to help employers and consumers improve their heath literacy by encouraging engagement through strategic methods, such as:

  • Create interactive summary plan descriptions (SPD) vs. static, paper SPDs
  • Deliver information in digestible chunks through infographics, videos or company web pages
  • Outline effective communication tips for talking with a doctor
  • Develop a quick-and-easy guide that explains how to address cost concerns with providers
  • Leverage text messages or emails for important reminders about deadlines and appointments

These are all tips and tactics that you can use with your own employees as well. Improving health education in your company by leveraging the right tools and messages will cut down on healthcare expenses for your staff and your company.  Supporting employees with stories, transparency services, and advocates within your organization will positively impact their healthcare literacy and approach to utilization. Healthy, engaged employees are a great way to start the New Year.