What We Can Do To Improve Health Literacy, Part I.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law in 2010. Section 3506 requires the implementation of shared decision making. Shared decision making is when a healthcare provider and patient use the healthcare provider’s expert knowledge and the patient’s right to be informed, to come to a conclusion in the healthiest next step of treatment. Ultimately, shared decision making has been proven to increase patient satisfaction. When attempting to qualify for a medical practices’ Hospital Value-based Purchasing (HVBP) incentive payment program, patient satisfaction accounts for 30%.

Defined by the National Library of Medicine, health literacy 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.” According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 90% of American adults have difficulty using and understanding the health information that is routinely made available at healthcare facilities. Low health literacy rates are a significant problem in the United States. With low health literacy, shared decision making as well as qualifying for the HVBP incentive payments becomes a struggle. Fortunately, there are a few proactive steps being taken to improve health literacy and overall communication of medical knowledge to patients.

Websites and Medical Apps that Integrate “Health Literacy Online”

mHealth health literacy medical apps
“Runkeeper and health on iPhone” by Flickr user Jason Howie.

According to a survey conducted by the PEW Internet and American Life Project, 80% of internet users in 2006 had searched for health information online. In 2014, more medical practices and health professionals are now using the Internet to deliver health information than ever before. In order to ensure that this health information is accessible to those with limited literacy and Web experience, the Department of Health and Human Services has developed a guideline for Web developers in order to promote the creation of more accessible health websites and apps. This guideline is Health Literacy Online.

Health Literacy Online was originally created as a guide for building websites, though in recent years, it has been adapted for mobile health (mHealth) apps as well. There are 6 key strategies laid out in Health Literacy Online for developing and building more accessible medical websites that can easily communicate medical information to patients. The strategies are as follows:

  1. Learn About Your Users.

  2. Write Actionable Content.

  3. Display Content Clearly.

  4. Organize And Simplify.

  5. Engage Users.

  6. Evaluate And Revise Your Site.

Many companies have used these strategies in developing and building mHealth apps and websites. In 2012, healthfinder.gov launched a contest in which they would award a cash prize to whomever created an easy-to-use mHealth app that used healthfinder’s content. The result was Lyfechannel’s myfamily app, an mHealth app that allows for users to easily build personal or family healthcare plans aligned with the priorities of the ACA and healfinder.gov content. In developing such an app, Lyfechannel integrated the 6 strategies outlined in Health Literacy Online to create something accessible to all health literacy levels. Using technology, such as myfamily, that has been made in accordance to the Department of Health and Human Service’s guide to developing more accessible medical websites is one way to promote health literacy and communicate medical knowledge within America.

Health Literacy Online is both informative and reliable, yet it is just one of many proactive strategies for improving health literacy within America. In next week’s blog post, we will discuss two other tools that can be utilized in improving health literacy within America. At Polar Green, we design innovative technological solutions to help solve modern day issues such as health literacy. To find out more about what we’re doing at Polar Green, visit us here: http://bit.ly/1mvdzkl