Healthcare literacy can drastically impact the quality of care, outcomes and cost for patients.

Healthcare literacy image

Healthcare literacy is all about being able to properly communicate with your doctor, understand what your doctor is telling you, and make an informed decision. But before you can communicate with your doctor, you need to find a good one in the first place. And to do that you need to know where to find who is covered under your medical plan. Then after you find a good doctor, you should know what questions to ask them and how to shop for medications to get the best price. Not to mention having the ability to follow treatment plans and dealing with medical bills.

Healthcare is complex so there is no wonder that not many people have a good understanding of how to do it, in fact only about 12% of adults in the US are considered to have a proficient level of health literacy.  

Health Literacy Level Task Examples Percentage
Proficient Using a table, calculate an employee’s share of health insurance costs for a year. 12%
Intermediate Read instructions on a prescription label, and determine what time a person can take the medication. 53%
Basic Read a pamphlet, and give two reasons a person with no symptoms should be tested for a disease. 21%
Below Basic Read a set of short instructions, and identify what is permissible to drink before a medical test. 14%


What this means for employers

Most of us get medical insurance through an employer-provided plan. And most employers pick up a big chunk of the cost. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for the medical plan to be the second or third largest line item in the budget. So most employers are spending a lot of money to provide a benefit to attract and retain talent but they are doing almost nothing to teach their employees how to use it efficiently. It’s no wonder that employers face an average of 7% increases to their health plan spend every year.

Is there anything that we can do?

Short answer – yes. Long answer – you’ve got to help people get relevant information when they need it. No, your 60 page SPD (that huge document that “explains” your benefits) doesn’t count, you really have to meet people halfway and give them information where they are (on their phones). Technology has come a long way and can help people with things like tracking medications and doctors’ visits over the phone. People want to take their health seriously, we just need to give them the tools to do it. The information and message need to be communicated as many ways as possible (email, print, website, online tools) and consistently. And maybe most important, ask for your employees help to solve the problem. They know best the issues they have when it comes to healthcare and will likely surprise you with ways to make improvements to your plan and communications.