How to talk to your employees about health literacy


Health Literacy is defined as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic healthcare information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions”.

Currently, only 12% of Americans are considered health literate. Consequently, many companies are recognizing the need to provide easy to use tools with comprehensible language  to improve literacy. This results in healthier, lower cost outcomes.


According to the Department of Health and Human Services, people who are considered “Healthcare Illiterate”:

  • Are more likely to have chronic conditions and lack the understanding to manage them
  • Do not use preventive care services
  • Experience longer hospital stays, many of which many could have been prevented altogether
  • Are using medications inappropriately or ineffectively
  • Don’t ask for help because they are feel intimidated and are self-conscious
  • Are less compliant in their treatment due to misunderstanding

For employers, this means higher medical claims, lower productivity, more disability claims and a higher rate of absenteeism.


Luckily, there are ways to improve employee’s health literacy and avoid negative outcomes:

  • Be consistent – Use the same language when describing your health plan, costs and services
  • Simplify your language – Try to write the way you speak. Use short, less complex sentences
  • Make your communication easy to read – Use larger font, headings and bullets. Leave plenty of white space in the margins
  • Use pictures – Some people are more visual learners than others
  • Give specific instructions – Clearly tell your audience what actions you want them to take
  • Get rid of the jargon – Don’t assume people understand things like deductibles, co-pays or FSA’s
  • Treat everyone the same – Remember that most people don’t understand the healthcare system
  • Use peer groups – Encourage your employees to help each other with questions and concerns
  • Use a variety of communication methods – Some people are more technologically inclined than others, so don’t leave employees behind because they are not as computer savvy
  • Remember the families – Many times the healthcare decision maker is not the employee, it may be a spouse or dependent so make sure to communicate with them as often as possible
  • Use mobile apps – Some employees, especially the younger generation will be exclusively using their smartphone, so make it easy for them
  • Use their language – Make communications available in the languages that are most prevalent in your company’s culture


Establishing behavior change in your company’s workplace can be a daunting task. Remember that you’re not alone. Health Literacy is a problem for everyone, but that can be changed. If you are interested in getting more acquainted with the topic, take a look at Trig’s Health Literacy Guide. Get your employees on the path to better care and lower costs through engagement and education.