The Future of Health Literacy

Studies show many Americans lack basic healthcare literacy, a fact that can have serious implications for their health. That means improving health literacy can be a major business opportunity.

is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.

Only 12% of adults have Proficient health literacy, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. In other words, nearly 9 out of 10 adults may lack the skills needed to manage their health and prevent disease. Fourteen percent of adults (30 million people) have Below Basic health literacy. These adults were more likely to report their health as poor (42%) and are more likely to lack health insurance (28%) than adults with Proficient health literacy.

Low literacy has been linked to poor health outcomes such as higher rates of hospitalization and less frequent use of preventive services. Both of these outcomes are associated with higher healthcare costs. Ninety percent of Americans now have health insurance. That makes the other 10% an even bigger target.

Consequently, payers are trying to get the message to patients and raise their health IQs. The roadmap has many steps.

Improving health literacy is becoming big business and requires new skill sets for those who want to participate. Look for:

1. Educational programs training health educators who understand adult learning theory, teaching technologies and medicine.

2. Interdisciplinary learning teams that incorporate principles of behavioral economics, psychology of behavior change, and cultural competence.

3. More granularity and data segmentation to better understand which cohort responds to which communication strategy

4. Health educators becoming a more integral part of care teams.

5. Better pre- and post-intervention study design and analysis

6. Improved ways to measure the return on investment for payers

7. More growth in digital health information and education products and services that are clinically validated and demonstrated to get an acceptable ROI.

8. The demise of digital health products that don't demonstrate clinical effectiveness and improve health literacy or generate a sufficient cost savings.

9. A focus on helping patients understand not just their disease, but the intricacies and pitfalls of navigating the sick care system e.g. inappropriate use of the ER, poor referral and follow up handoffs, and insurance and payment snafus

10. Better information and communications technologies offering shared learning for patients and their families, care teams, surrogates and personal representatives.

Health literacy opportunities abound. For example, if you have a certain disease, are there more cost effective ways to treat it with a drug other than the one being considered? If you have an urgent care need, where is the best place to seek care-emergency room, retail based clinic, urgent care center, telemedicine visit, doctor's office or self-treatment? If you have been diagnosed with cancer, where can you go to get information about a clinical trial that works for you? Does medical travel make sense?

Sick-care is extremely confusing, frustrating, and sometimes infuriating, even for insiders and the most knowledgeable, like doctors and their family members. The health literacy business is a big opportunity that invites and rewards creativity, innovation, interdisciplinary and inter-professional collaboration and entrepreneurship.