With nearly half the U.S. adult population lacking health literacy skills needed to understand and act on health information and health system demands, Health Net, Inc. is taking steps to support the goal of Health Literacy Month and promote the importance of providing consumers with health information that’s clear, simple and easy to understand. “Studies have shown that there’s a link between low health literacy and poor health outcomes,” said Patricia Buss, M.D., medical and health care services operations officer for Health Net. “At Health Net, one of our top priorities is helping our members maximize their health. That’s why we created our Clear & Simple program.” Launched in 2010, the Clear & Simple program provides Health Net employees with an understanding of health literacy and its impact on health care, and teaches them how to communicate with members more effectively using plain language. As part of its support for Health Literacy Month, Health Net’s Cultural & Linguistics Services department is holding “plain language” training sessions for Health Net employees throughout October. “This is the time of year when many consumers will be making choices about their health coverage,” said Buss. “Health Net recognizes that these are important decisions, so we’re focused on making our information and enrollment materials easy to navigate and comprehend.” The Clear & Simple program seems to be making an impression on Health Net members. Recently, Tucson, Ariz., resident Janet Schaefer wrote about her health-insurance-shopping experience in a letter to the editor of the Arizona Daily Star. She described her pleasure with the materials she received from Health Net: “Health Net guided me through this every step of the way with materials that are clear, concise and helpful.” “With validation like that, we believe our communications are striking the right clear-and-simple chord,” said Buss.
What is Health Literacy?The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) defines health literacy as the ability to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions. The Need for Higher Health Literacy As part of its National Assessment of Adult Literacy, the National Center for Education Statistics conducted its first-ever survey to measure health literacy. The following findings, from that study and a publication from the ODPHP, point to a need to improve health literacy among American adults:
- Nearly one third of American adults likely have difficulty with common health tasks, such as following directions on a prescription drug label or adhering to a childhood immunization schedule using a standard chart;
- Limited health literacy affects adults across racial and ethnic groups. The proportion of adults with basic or below basic health literacy ranged from 28 percent of white adults to 65 percent of Hispanic adults; three quarters of the adults without a high school diploma had below basic level health-literacy skills or basic level health-literacy skills; and
- Both publicly insured and uninsured adults had lower health literacy skills compared to privately insured adults; and more than two-thirds of adults over the age of 75 had below basic level health literacy skills or basic level health literacy skills.
- People with limited health literacy skills are more likely than those with adequate health literacy to have chronic conditions and are less able to manage them effectively;
- Those with limited health literacy skills are more likely than those with adequate health literacy to forgo preventive measures such as mammograms, Pap smears, and flu shots; and
- Limited health literacy skills are associated with an increase in preventable hospital visits and admissions.
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