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Health Literacy and Healthcare Communications have an impact on pressing healthcare needs. Here are 5 recent Studies on Healthcare Outcomes that reveal the Importance of Health Literacy and Culturally Competent Care in the Healthcare setting.

1. Diabetes Medication Adherence

Photo of Pill Box - Importance of Health Literacy on Medication Adherence

Low Literacy Populations struggle with medication adherence

Long-term drug treatment programs suffer from low medication adherence in patients. As medication adherence affects long-term care, patient communication is an important tool to inform patients about best practices for adherence and to warn them about the negative consequences of non-adherence. A Kaiser Permanente Study found out that more is to be done to address lower diabetes medication adherence in Hispanics. Culturally competent care by a physician who understands the needs of the patient is an important factor.  However, the study also suggests to look beyond language barriers and consider other factors such as health beliefs.

Health Literacy goes beyond just overcoming language barriers, whether it is Plain Language writing of the English source content or healthcare translations into other languages. It takes into account research that explains behaviors from both a language and cultural aspect. Cultural beliefs around medication use and treatment may need to take a step back to where the use of medication over other treatment is discussed first before you go into adherence. Furthermore, consider that concepts like refill amounts, frequency, dosage, etc. are important but often misunderstood concepts. In addition to not understanding communications, many patients also have a difficult time understanding numeracy (the ability to understand and use numbers and math skills in daily life). This report by Vanderbilt Medical University delves further into this. Finally, the use of technology to aid in medication adherence can also pose problems, which we address in the next featured study.

Image of Nike Fuel Band - Importance of Health Literacy on reducing Digital Divide

Nearly half of Americans do not trust the health benefits of wearables

2. Low Literacy and the Digital Divide

Many healthcare organizations match wearable technology with healthy living and wellness incentives in order to motivate patients to have a healthier lifestyle. While in theory this approach seems to be a win-win situation for lowering healthcare spending while increasing patient wellness, one recent study concluded that nearly half of the Americans are still skeptical about the benefit of these technologies. This study correlated that low health literacy is a factor in a growing digital divide in healthcare. We write on this topic of assessing a patient’s health literacy and its crucial tie to translation. Factors that affect the low rate of technology adoption is trust in the technology and healthcare and privacy concerns. The high level of skepticism of technology has been studied in low literacy populations particularly and this skepticism has created a technology gap in healthcare that should be addressed.

The gap between adoption of digital health has a lot to do with trust. Patient trust is a multidimensional concept and the doctor – patient relationship is one opportunity to build trust, which we’ll address in the next item.

3. Surgery Anxiety in Hispanics

Surgery can drive up anxiety in any patient. However, a recent study concludes that Hispanics are typically suffering from higher levels of anxiety before a surgery than Caucasian patients. The study is important because preoperative anxiety can negatively affect the recovery time and pain after surgery. One interesting conclusion is that Hispanics are less likely to understand the role different healthcare professionals play in the surgery process. There is also a general need in Hispanics to seek more specific information prior to the surgery. Hispanics are also less likely to question their doctors, leaving out important questions about possible complications or concerns that may increase the level of anxiety.

The study highlights the need to research the effects of Culturally Competent Care on surgery anxiety. As patients are new to the healthcare system, physicians and care takers who are aware of the gaps and can address them in a culturally appropriate way will likely be more successful in reducing anxiety.

4. Advancing participation of a diverse population in Clinical Trails

Patient Clinical Trials are imperative to the healthcare system in order to advance care. An important concept in clinical trials is randomization. A group of researchers used different health literacy strategies to explain the randomization of treatment in clinical trials. Their approach with low literacy populations differed by adopting a concept that doesn’t imply a win-lose situation (like gambling). Instead, when randomization was compared to the chance of having a baby boy or baby girl (one or the other) has helped patients with low literacy to more favorably choose to go ahead with the trial. Understanding and addressing the anxiety around randomization in low literacy populations is exactly what Health Literacy writing is all about. The behaviors go back to leading indicators around which you build concepts that are easily understood.

Another Health Literacy concept that was highlighted in the study was that personal stories by peers about their participation helps in the overall acceptance of trial participation of others.

Images of open enrollment brochures in Spanish5. Consumer Literacy of Healthcare Insurance

Our Healthcare Terminology study has already shown that healthcare terminology is vast, complex and not always consistent. Therefore, it is not surprising that a recent survey has concluded that many Americans do not understand their health plan information. One good practice we have seen in written healthcare communications is to use examples to show how different cost elements affect a person who might be in a similar situation. Digital platforms are emerging to help people estimate their healthcare costs in a step-by-step overview. The importance of researching and choosing health plans typically doesn’t get as much attention among most Americans as it should. However, the impact of a healthcare plan can have financial and health implications. Part of choosing a health plan is also being able to budget and understanding the cost drivers. Financial literacy is health literacy in many cases as well.

The Importance of Health Literacy

If you look at what is mandated by State legislation for Medicare and Medicaid, the standards for Plain Language are well established. However, studies like the ones highlighted here also show that Health Literacy is more than just applying plain language concepts and meeting readability standards. It involves deep knowledge of the population you are trying to serve and understanding what drives behavior. Health literacy will not solve everything, but the need for better Healthcare Communications that are designed around Health Literacy concepts seems to be evident.