So what is Health Literacy and why is it so important?
The generally accepted definition of Health Literacy is that it is about an individual’s ability to find, read, understand and use information relating to their health. This is of course, important when it comes to encouraging patient involvement within their care and helping them to make informed decisions.
So what can I do?
Increasing Health Literacy can be done in simple practical ways such as getting patients to explain back instructions for taking medication, asking them to prepare any questions they might have before a consultation or by holding health events where complex subjects such as dementia care are explained in depth.
However, this doesn’t to reach patients when they are outside of the practice and need a high level of health literacy the most. In our everyday lives we are exposed to a barrage of health information from TV shows, magazines, websites and our friends and family. Some of this information is important and helpful but some of it isn’t as helpful or accurate as we’d like to believe it is. So, how do patients determine what the correct information is and what information they should ignore?
Well they need help, and by directing them to the correct information and providing helpful information, your website can help patients to increase their health literacy.
- Make sure that your website is full of helpful information, written in a simple and easy to understand way. Avoid using jargon and complex sentences, as this will alienate those patients with the lowest health literacy; which are the ones you want to reach the most.
- Allow patients to ask doctors questions through the website. This can be incredibly helpful when done correctly and let patients ask those little important questions, such as do I take the antibiotics twice a day or three times? Which they really don’t need an appointment for.
- Guide patients towards credible health websites, helping to point out the good sites from the bad can be especially helpful when patients are ill and in distress.
- Ensure that you explain clearly what the differences are between routine and serious issues. Excessive pain for example is subjective. What one person may view as excessive pain could really be the normal amount of pain you’d expect them to have after a treatment.
- Provide positive reinforcement as much as possible. People are much more likely to follow advice if it’s given in a nice way.
- Ensure your website always meets accessibility standards. Don’t use flashing red text everywhere as this is very difficult for many patients to read.