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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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. 

New Definition of High Blood Pressure

Changes in Guidelines Affect Millions
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In hopes that patients will talk to their doctors about high blood pressure and possible treatments sooner, heart experts have changed the guidelines for the condition. The changes will greatly increase the number of US adults who have high blood pressure.

High bold pressure is now defined as a reading of 130 over 80 and above. Previously a reading of 140 over 90 and above was the definition of high blood pressure. This is the first time in 14 years that the definition has changed.

With the change in guidelines, the percent of US adults living with high blood pressure increased to 46% from 32%. That is nearly half of all adults. And younger adults – those under 45 – saw even bigger increases.

Many people live with high blood pressure and don’t know it. Getting a blood pressure reading by a health professional is the only way to know for sure – there are usually no signs or symptoms. Some symptoms may appear if blood pressure rises or falls quickly:

  • Dull headaches
  • Dizzy spells
  • Unusual nosebleeds

High blood pressure can be deadly if not treated, so it is important to take a diagnosis seriously. Lifestyle changes can help control high blood pressure:

  • Don’t smoke or use other tobacco products
  • Limit use of ibuprofen and aspirin
  • Keep a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly – try to get it 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week

Talk to a health professional to get more information about high blood pressure.


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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. 

Preventing Emergency Department Visits With Education

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Hospital emergency departments, as the name implies, are meant to be used for true emergencies. Unfortunately many trips to the ER are not life-threatening and are in fact both unnecessary and avoidable. A study published in 2013 found that only 29% of ER visits reviewed were actual emergency situations. Less than half of those visits that were not an emergency required medical attention but could have been treated in a primary care facility. One in four did not require immediate attention.

Low health literacy leads many patients to the ER when they could have received care at a less expensive setting – like at their doctor’s office or at a walk-in clinic. It’s also known that patients with low health literacy are more likely to make return visits to ERs within two weeks. Some barriers for patients with low literacy include:

  • Not understanding or following doctor’s instructions for managing chronic conditions.
  • Misunderstanding information they find about symptoms online.
  • Not recognizing the importance of proper preventative care.

More recent research, presented at the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine Annual Meeting in Orlando, explored how low health literacy was related to preventable ER visits. The study looked at over 1,200 participants and a total of 4,444 ER visits. Over 10% of the visits were found to have been preventable.

Of the preventable visits, over 60% led to hospital admission. (The average cost of a hospital stay is estimated to be close to $10,000.) When researchers looked at the health literacy of the participants, those with lower health literacy were over twice as likely to have made a preventable ER visit. Having below an eighth-grade reading level was the definition used for low literacy.

The most common preventable conditions leading to ER visits included chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), urinary tract infections and long-term complications from diabetes.

While not surprising, the study illustrates that patients with low literacy are more likely to make preventable visits to ER and other emergency services. And increasing the literacy of patients can help dramatically decrease unnecessary healthcare costs.

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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. 

14 Smart Ways to Save Money on Healthcare

Drowning in medical bills? These tips can help.
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My wife and I are generally pretty savvy shoppers. Well, she is – and I get the benefits. She clips coupons, looks for bargains, and buys certain items only when they’re BOGO (buy one, get one free). Why pay full price when you don’t have to?

In healthcare, we’ve rarely had that option. For a long time, the cost of a healthcare treatment or test didn’t even come up until after the bill came. For most of us, health insurance covered the majority of the cost, and our responsibility was limited to a small co-pay.

That’s changing now as the trend toward consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs) grows, and many of us are spending more out of pocket. In 2016, nearly one-third of all employer-sponsored health plans were CDHPs.

As a result, patients are getting choosier. And as the healthcare system continues to evolve, we need to be more proactive. We need to get smart about where to go for care, how to pay, and how to prepare. These tips can help:

How to Save

Your primary care physician is likely your go-to source for most of your healthcare needs. But there are times you may want to consider these alternatives:

  • Some health plans offer telemedicine, which can give follow-ups, help manage chronic conditions, monitor medications, and provide other clinical services all through electronic communication. Depending on your condition, telemedicine can save you both time and money.
  • For problems that are serious but not life-threatening, such as a sprained ankle, bad cough, or fever, urgent care centers can be a good alternative to the emergency room. Be sure the center is in network for your insurance plan. Co-pays for visits should be listed on your insurance ID card or on the plan’s web portal or mobile app.
  • Websites like FAIR Health may help you figure out the costs of some medical care.
  • Teaching hospitals in some communities may offer discounts for certain medical needs.
  • For prescription drugs, ask your doctor or pharmacist if generic versions are available. They’re often a fraction of the cost of a brand-name medication.

How to Pay

Using credit cards to pay off big medical bills may be tempting, but it can add up to mountains of debt. Make sure you know your options:

  • If you have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), you can open and put money in a Health Savings Account (HSA) with pre-tax dollars. Many employers will contribute to your HSA as well. HSAs can be used for a wide range of healthcare expenses – from sunscreen to X-rays – and the balance carries over year to year.
  • With Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), you can use pre-tax dollars to pay for most healthcare-related products and services. Some FSAs operate on the “use it or lose it” rule, meaning you must spend all the money in your account by the end of each year or lose any remaining balance. There are exceptions, though, so check with your employer.
  • Hospitals and certain providers may consider payment plans for larger expenses. Be sure to ask about them if you anticipate big bills or find yourself with higher-than-expected costs.
  • Finally, keep in mind that most healthcare organizations will take into account your ability to pay. You may be able to negotiate some expenses, or they can suggest programs that can help out.

How to Prepare

Here’s the key to saving on healthcare: Do your homework. Costs for tests, procedures, and treatments can vary widely, regardless of where you live or what plan you use, so take these steps:

  • Choose the right plan based on your age, health history, and the care you expect you’ll need.
  • Be sure your provider is in-network.
  • Talk to others who’ve been through similar medical issues or procedures, and learn from their experiences.
  • Ask questions – not only about what to expect from the service, but about how much it will cost. Healthcare is one of the most expensive services we purchase, so don’t be shy about asking questions whenever your doctor recommends tests or procedures, or prescribes medications.
  • Be proactive: Practice good health habits, eat smart, exercise, and take advantage of free screenings, flu shots, and other preventive steps.

Paying for healthcare will never be like shopping for groceries. But as things continue to change, there will likely be more and more similarities – and in time, smart shoppers will get better deals.

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Frank Hone is a consumer marketing strategist who focuses on the business impact of engagement strategy for health and well-being improvement... read more