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Friday, June 29, 2012

Beyond Reading & Writing: The Importance of Health Literacy! | Pima County Health Department, Literacy Connects

As the United States continues its tardy debate about providing affordable health care for everyone, the issue of health literacy also must be considered.

As this article notes:
Research shows that people of all ages, races, incomes, and education levels are affected by limited health literacy. This is often because most health information is unfamiliar, complicated, or overwhelming.
The article explains that people with high levels of health literacy are better able to get, process and understand basic health information. As a result, they're better able to get the services needed to make appropriate health decisions.

But, the article notes:
Unfortunately, the latest data shows that nearly 9 out of 10 adults have trouble understanding most health information that is available. This is often complicated by the fact that there is so much conflicting information, leaving people unsure of which sources to trust.
Also, related to the U.S. debate about the cost of health care and how to finance it, the article notes [emphasis added]:
Low health literacy is a significant cost burden on healthcare, with some estimates indicating the annual health care costs for individuals with low literacy skills are four times higher than those with higher literacy skills.
I don't recall reading about anything in the U.S. legislation about improving the health literacy of citizens. So it's important for writers and editors in other fields -- including the health-care field itself and  organizational personnel/human relations offices -- to ensure information is provided in clear, concise and understandable plain language.

I note HR offices above because the U.S. continues to be one of the few countries on the planet to rely on employers to provide (pay for) health care for their employees.

For more information on writing in clear, concise language, check out Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It provides a step-by-step process on how to improve writing skills by using plain-English techniques:


  1. Gary, there is much going on in health literacy. Check out the Institute for Healthcare Advancement. There was a federal report just a few years ago that put health literacy on the agenda for all the players in the field. Just do an Internet search and you will find many activities and actors.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Cheryl! I've been to various health literacy sites and am aware of least some excellent efforts that have been going on for quite a while.

    But my point in highlighting this issue in my blog -- besides its relevance to U.S. health-care reform -- is that I feel we plain-language advocates (in health care and other fields) spend an inordinate amount of time preaching to the choir.

    I'm hopeful folks in other fields -- especially HR -- might get some value from my blog posting. I am sure some of them, if not many of them, aren't aware of the plain-language movement.

    Thanks again!


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