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Improve Health Literacy Where You Work: 4 Helpful Resources

If you’re an employer, you already know the high costs of providing healthcare benefits.
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There’s no end in sight.

Total costs of providing medical and pharmacy benefits in 2019 are expected to rise 5% for the sixth straight year, according to an annual survey by the National Business Group on Health.

That means employers at big companies can expect to pay around $15,000 per worker in the coming year. Blame it on costly claims, specialty medications, and certain diseases, say many employers.

But here’s something you may not know:

Health literacy — the ability to understand and act on health information — plays a role, too. According to a University of Connecticut study, low health literacy costs the US healthcare system about $238 billion a year.

Simply put, when people don’t have the knowledge they need to make good decisions about their health, they make poorer decisions — choices that lead to poorer health and higher costs.

Low health literacy costs more. High health literacy costs less.

Consider these scenarios:

  • An employee’s child sprains her ankle. In a panic, the parent rushes the child to the ER. They rack up a huge bill, even though they could have treated the child at home for free.
  • A doctor prescribes an expensive medicine for one of your staff. The employee doesn’t know to ask for a generic version, so they end up paying much more for the brand-name drug.
  • A 53-year-old worker puts off his colonoscopy year after year, saying he doesn’t have time for silly tests. Doctors don’t find he has cancer until much later, resulting in expensive hospital bills and treatments — not to mention pain, suffering, and weeks or even months of missed work —or worse.

In each scenario, improving health literacy could mean better health for less money. Studies show that people with low health literacy tend to have more health claims, more hospital stays, more trips to the ER, less compliance with treatment plans, and higher death rates.

In contrast, people with high health literacy tend to have fewer health claims, fewer needs for special services, more compliance with medication and treatment plans, and better health overall.

 

Finding the Right Health Literacy Resources

Improving health literacy isn’t easy. “There’s no quick fix,” said EdLogics advisor Brian Primack, MD, PhD, director of the Center for Research, Media, Technology, and Health at the University of Pittsburgh, in a recent EdLogics webinar. Still, Dr. Primack added, “We are moving the needle.”

If you’re an employer, a human resources manager, or other business leader who’s committed to finding ways to improve health literacy in your organization, these resources can help:


Developing a Plan in Your Organization

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Use the CDC’s workbook, sample action plan, and links to government sites to create your organization’s health literacy plan. Includes a state-by-state directory of health literacy initiatives.


Quick Guide to Health Literacy

US Department of Health and Human Services (PDF)

You know your company needs a health literacy program, but you’re not sure where to start? This guide will walk you through the basics, including best practices and simple, concrete tips for writing and designing good content.


Everyday Words for Public Health Communication

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The first rule in developing health content for low-literacy users: Avoid doctor-speak. This indispensable guide shows you how, with an index of commonly used medical terms and their plain-language alternatives.


Webinar: Improving Health Literacy: What Works, What Doesn’t

EdLogics and Global Action Platform

Watch the video: Health literacy expert Russell Rothman, MD, MPP, of Vanderbilt University and gamification expert Brian Primack, MD, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh share an overview of what makes health literacy programs effective.

EdLogics’ gamified learning platform combines engaging, personalized content and activities with unique incentives to help users improve their health literacy. Want a demo? Contact us!

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Webinar Recap: What the Experts Said About Improving Health Literacy

Watch the video and read the highlights
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Our October 3 webinar, “Improving Health Literacy: What Works & Why” — co-sponsored by EdLogics and Global Action Platform — got a great reaction from attendees.

Missed it? Watch the video below or on the EdLogics Newsroom, where you can also watch other videos, see past webinars, listen to interviews, check out our press kit, and more.


Improving Health Literacy: What Works & Why

Can anyone really lower the high costs of healthcare?

You can’t control many of the factors that contribute to high healthcare costs: expensive drugs, the cost of providers, rising insurance premiums. So, what can you do?

Improve health literacy, the ability to understand and act on health information.

Watch health literacy expert Russell Rothman, MD, MPP of Vanderbilt University and gamification guru Brian Primack, MD, PhD of the University of Pittsburgh outline problems with existing health education programs and describe real-life solutions.


 

Low Health Literacy Costs More, High Health Literacy Costs Less

Low health literacy costs more. High health literacy costs less.
EdLogics wants to improve low health literacy through education.

It’s not about avoiding medical care. It’s about getting the right care at the right time.

We want to empower people to make real changes in their day-to-day habits, so they can stay healthy and keep their families healthy, too.

We want to educate people to prevent sickness before it starts, to show them what to do and where to get care when they do get sick, and help them become well-informed, proactive healthcare consumers.

Ultimately, EdLogics wants to improve health outcomes, reduce the number of claims, and lower costs. For everyone.


Dr. Primack:
“In the US, 1 in 3 Americans can’t follow directions on a drug label. And I have to say, even with a medical degree, I sometimes get a prescription for one of my kids or something and I have to look at it pretty carefully with that small print and the code that it’s in. So it’s not surprising that it’s a challenge for many different people.”


For each low literacy patient, extra healthcare costs $8k/year on average


Dr. Primack:
“When someone, for example, just has an ankle sprain — if they can access and follow good information that they have — then they very well might be the kind of person who will say, ‘You know, I don’t need to go the emergency room. I can wait.’

A couple days later, they’ve already improved with ice, elevation and rest — all things that are free.

Whereas another person who is having more difficulty understanding or accessing information might decide to go to the ER for the same condition, and the second they get through the ER door, already they’ve racked up very high costs. They’ve put themselves at risk for getting some kind of a hospital-acquired infection or some additional problem.

Even though this is one small example, when we start quoting issues like ‘90 million Americans have poor health literacy, and this costs an extra $150-200 a year,’ you can see how these numbers add up.”


 

Improving Health Literacy Makes a Difference

Knowing what to do to prevent chronic disease, how to take medications, and where to go when you’re sick — and acting on that knowledge — can have a huge impact on both personal health and the number of costly healthcare claims.

  • Improved knowledge of health issues
  • Improved behaviors
    • Medication adherence
    • Vaccines
    • Childhood obesity prevention
    • Diabetes self-management
    • Asthma management
  • Improved outcomes for:
    • Diabetes
    • Heart failure
    • Obesity prevention
    • Depression

Dr. Rothman:
“Even after you take into account a patient’s education level, their income, their insurance, and a host of other factors, we find that their literacy level is an independent predictor of how they do with their health.”


 

The Problem with Existing Health Education Programs

Of course, health education programs trying to raise people’s health literacy already exist.

But are they actually making a difference?

Health literacy improvement is important, but not everything is effective.
Pamphlets: Often don’t make it from the doctor’s office to the car.

Health websites: Too high-literacy, not personalized, and not always trustworthy.

Doctor visits: Patients may misunderstand, forget instructions, or feel too embarrassed to ask questions.


Dr. Rothman:
“And, unfortunately — and I say this as a primary care physician [laughing] — but there’s also a lot of variation in how well doctors communicate with their patients and their families. If you ask most clinicians we would, of course, tell you that we’re excellent communicators, and our patients all nod their heads and seem to understand everything that we say to them.  … Some studies suggest patients only recall about 20% of what’s said to them by the time they get home.

So we like to think we’re all good communicators as clinicians, but a lot of us struggle — using a lot of jargon that might be hard for patients to understand, maybe speaking at too high of a literacy level without enough plain language, and giving people too much information to try to take in during one single visit. We often don’t assess patient understanding before they leave.”


Poorly designed games: Many focus on the wrong goal.


Dr. Primack:
“So there would be hamburgers and pieces of pizza, and you are supposed to shoot those, but the salad you are supposed to let live. You can probably imagine the next step, which was that they studied this and they found that being exposed to this game and playing this game a lot didn’t actually make people change their diet in any way.

It’s just a caution that even though sometimes gamification is really valuable, if the game is poorly designed, that’s just not a magic quick fix.”


 

Improving Health Literacy: What Actually Works

It’s one thing to learn more health facts.

It’s another thing to change your daily habits — the one thing that has more of an effect on health than any other single factor.

  • Gamification and game-based learning
    • Key principles:
    • Competition, leaderboards, and peer comparisons
    • Teamwork, shared goals
    • Leveling up, increasing challenges, improving skill and knowledge
    • Interactive content for better retention than passively-consumed content
    • Unique incentives, cash drawings, charitable contributions, other benefits

Dr. Primack: 
“The question is: Can we take principles of gamification and game based learning — the interactivity, the unique incentives — and can we use that to leverage for positive change? And what we have found is that, especially in the area of health literacy, there is a lot that we can do.”


  • Multiple formats: words, pictures, videos
  • Personalization: Content is tailored to the individual user based on age, gender, health conditions, interests, and family roles like caregiving
  • Motivation and sustainability: Keep people engaged for real-life behavior changes
  • Community resources: Further education and support

Dr. Rothman:
“What we really need to think about more is how to link people to other social support mechanisms to help them with their health. We have lots of studies now that really demonstrate that patients who have strong social support do much better with their health. There’s actually an epidemic of loneliness going on in a lot of countries.

And even when people are with their family, they may not have social support for disease that they’re dealing with.

So it can be really helpful to help a patient or employee and their family link to community resources — maybe to disease-specific organizations if they have a certain disease, or to a community organization that provides peer support. Or we can help them gain access to exercise or healthy food. Even to help them with getting additional support from their own family.”


 

Effective Health Literacy Education

  • Personalized and engaging
  • Addresses readiness for behavior change
  • Applies principles of motivation for goal setting
  • Activates participants
  • Sets concrete, feasible goals
  • Promotes follow-up for sustained behavior change
  • Provides community resources for support

4 Things to Remember:

  1. Health literacy is a major problem in the US.
  2. Improving health literacy benefits everyone.
  3. We need a multi-faceted approach.
  4. There is no quick fix — but there IS hope.

Dr. Rothman:
“Health literacy is a major problem in the United States. We have at least 90 million Americans with only basic or below basic literacy skills. Even patients with good literacy skills can struggle to navigate what’s become a very complex healthcare system when trying to take care of their health or the health of their family.

We have found that by addressing health literacy issues, we can improve care for patients with low literacy. Studies have suggested that using good forms of health communication and addressing health literacy can even improve knowledge and behavior for people with high health literacy. So improving how we educate and communicate can be of great value to everyone.”


Dr. Primack:
“There are so many challenges here. If it were easy, we wouldn’t have 90 million Americans with low health literacy. But I think that it’s important to end on a positive note and say that we really are moving the needle. There have been studies that show that using the kind of principles that we talked about today really do help and change people’s lives. I think that that is what we need to hold up as we move forward.”


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Can Anyone REALLY Lower the High Costs of Healthcare?

Yes — but the solution may surprise you.
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You can’t control many of the factors that contribute to high healthcare costs: expensive drugs, the cost of providers, rising insurance premiums. It may seem like there’s not a lot anyone can do, other than pay up. So what can you do?

On the surface, the solution is simple. Less illness. Fewer claims. Better use of the healthcare system. Easier said than done — but it can be done. How?

By improving health literacy, or the ability to understand and act on health information. Sign up for our free webinar and we’ll show you how.

Register now! Improving Health Literacy: What Works & What Doesn’t. Wednesday, October 3, 2018.

Consider the facts:

  • 1 in 3 Americans can’t read a drug label.
  • Only 15% of adults with low health literacy know how to find good medical info online.
  • People with low health literacy are more likely to go without flu shots, mammograms, and other preventive care.

Knowing what to do to prevent chronic disease, how to take medications, and where to go when you’re sick — and acting on that knowledge — can have a huge impact on both personal health and the number of costly healthcare claims.

Low health literacy costs more. High health literacy costs less.

How do you improve health literacy?

Learn how by signing up for our free webinar! Join health literacy expert Dr. Russell Rothman and gamification guru Dr. Brian Primack as they discuss real-life strategies for improving health literacy. Find out what works — and what doesn’t.

Improving Health Literacy: What Works & What Doesn’t
Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Register now! Improving Health Literacy: What Works & What Doesn’t. Wednesday, October 3, 2018.

Even if you can’t make it, sign up anyway. We’ll send you a recording of the webinar. Invite your friends, too — and anyone who could benefit from lower healthcare costs!


PANELISTS

Brian Primack, MD, PhDBrian A. Primack, MD, PhD
Dean, University Honors College
Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics
Director, Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health
University of Pittsburgh

Dr. Primack has received many awards for research, teaching, and overall achievement, including the highest awards for emerging researchers offered by the Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine and the Society of Behavioral Medicine. His TEDTalk, “Staying Healthy Might Be All Fun and Games” — given at the 2014 TEDMED conference in San Francisco — shows how video game principles can inspire changes in health behavior. His work has been cited in international news publications like The New York Times, NPR, U.S. News and World Report, the BBC, and The International Herald Tribune.

Russell L. Rothman, MD, MPPRussell L. Rothman, MD, MPP
Vice President for Population Health Research
Director of the Center for Health Services Research
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Nashville, Tennessee

Dr. Rothman’s research focuses on improving care for adults and children with diabetes, obesity, and other chronic diseases. His work addresses health communication, health literacy and numeracy, and other social and behavioral factors to improve health. He has been the Principal Investigator on over $50 million in funded research and has authored over 130 manuscripts.


MODERATOR

Fred S. GoldsteinFrederic S. Goldstein
President and Founder
Accountable Health
Jacksonville, Florida

Fred’s consulting practice focuses on Population Health and the intersection of health system design, data, and analytics and behavior change. He serves on the Graduate Faculty of the John D. Bower School of Population Health at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the editorial board of the journal Population Health Management, the founding Advisory Board of Population Health News, the Best Practices Review Panel for the Institute for Medicaid Innovation, and as a judge for the Health Value Awards.

Register now! Improving Health Literacy: What Works & What Doesn’t. Wednesday, October 3, 2018.

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INFOGRAPHIC: How Telemedicine Works

Get medical help without seeing a doctor in person
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Talk to a doctor without seeing them in person

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Jerry Gulley currently serves as EdLogics’ Chief Content Officer. He trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and has held positions with Cooking Light, Health, and AllRecipes. 

Healthy Habits

It's never too late to change a bad habit ... or adopt a new good habit!
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Get over bad habits, get new good habits!

Never miss a post.

Subscribe now. Know when we publish our latest articles on health literacy, gamification, and healthcare.

Jerry Gulley currently serves as EdLogics’ Chief Content Officer. He trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and has held positions with Cooking Light, Health, and AllRecipes.