Healthy literacy is a fundamental part of patient-centric care. All people, regardless of their level of education, their ability to read, or their ability to understand English should always encounter the safest, highest-quality, best-value healthcare services across all settings.
As a nation, how do we accomplish that? How can we ensure patients have access to the highest quality care through health literacy?
Healthy People is an initiative run by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) since the 1980s to support efforts to address issues related to health information and improve health literacy. Healthy People serves as a guide for individuals, organizations, communities, and key stakeholders on how to improve health. The current and newest version of the Healthy People initiative is Healthy People 2030.
The vision of Healthy People 2030 is a society in which all people can achieve their full potential for health and well-being across their lifespan. To achieve its vision, Healthy People 2030 has established healthy literacy as a central focus in one of its overarching goals: “Eliminate health disparities, achieve health equity, and attain health literacy to improve the health and well-being of all.”
Definitions of Health Literacy
Healthy People 2030 broke down the definition of health literacy into two: personal health literacy and organizational health literacy.
Personal health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.
Organizational health literacy is the degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.
Under these new definitions, there is a greater emphasis on people’s ability to use health information rather than just understand it. There is also a recognition of the key role organizations play in addressing health literacy.
Healthy literacy 2030 objectives
Healthy People 2030 marks the first time health literacy is part of its framework. The achievement of health literacy is acknowledged in the Healthy People 2030 foundational principles and overarching goals. Here are the six objectives related to health literacy!
- Increase the proportion of adults who report that their health care provider always asked them to describe how they will follow instructions.
- Reduce the proportion of adults who report poor patient and provider communication (i.e., listening, explanations, disrespect, time)
- Increase the proportion of adults who report that their health care providers always involved them in decisions about their health care as much as they wanted.
- Increase the proportion of persons who find their online medical records easy to understand.
- Increase the percentage of limited-English-proficient (LEP) adults who report that their doctors or other health providers always explained things in a way that was easy to understand.
- Increase the health literacy of the population.
The objectives and definition of health literacy in Healthy People 2030 also align with the HHS’s National Actional Plan to Improve Health Literacy.
National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy
The main purpose of the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy is to engage organizations, professionals, policymakers, individuals, and families, in a multi-sector effort to improve health literacy.
The core principles of this Action Plan are that all people have the right to health information that helps them make informed decisions, and health services should be delivered in ways that are easy to understand and that improve health, longevity, and quality of life.
The Action Plan recognizes that limited health literacy is a real public health problem and proposes seven goals to improve health literacy:
- Develop and disseminate health and safety information that is accurate, accessible, and actionable.
- Promote changes in the health care system that improve health information, communication, informed decision-making, and access to health services.
- Incorporate accurate, standards-based, and developmentally appropriate health and science information and curricula in childcare and education through the university level.
- Support and expand local efforts to provide adult education, English language instruction, and culturally and linguistically appropriate health information services in the community.
- Build partnerships, develop guidance, and change policies.
- Increase basic research and the development, implementation, and evaluation of practices and interventions to improve health literacy.
- Increase the dissemination and use of evidence-based health literacy practices and interventions.
Health literacy and clear communication between patients and healthcare professionals are essential for improving health and the quality of care. However, the responsibility for health literacy does not solely rely on the patient or the healthcare providers. Healthcare organizations, community partners, policymakers, and the government also play a key role in health literacy.
The Action Plan shares numerous strategies that can be used by healthcare professionals, educators, and other community partners to achieve health literacy.
In this newsletter, I share some of the strategies recommended by the Action Plan for healthcare executives to promote health literacy inside their organizations.
What Healthcare Executives Can Do to Improve Health Literacy
- Increase awareness of and compliance with Title VI, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other laws designed to ensure that individuals with LEP (limited English proficiency) and/ or disabilities have access to health information and language assistance.
- Provide comprehensive language access and assistive technologies, including interpreter services, at every point of contact to meet the needs of diverse patient communities and create a person-centered environment.
- Evaluate the contribution of poor communication and information to patient safety incidents and poor health outcomes.
- Provide incentives to encourage employees to use good communication practices.
- Establish formal mechanisms to review and address the literacy level, quality of translation, and cultural appropriateness of all written information for patients.
If you are interested, you can find more information about strategies to achieve health literacy in the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy in this link.