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The month of October is recognized as Health Literacy Month; this recognition helps organizations and individuals focus on promoting the importance of understandable health information.   According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 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.

Health literacy is based on various factors such as:

  • Communication skills of lay persons and professionals
  • Lay and professional knowledge of health topics
  • Culture
  • Demands of the healthcare and public health systems
  • Demands of the situation/context

The level of health literacy impacts a patient’s ability to:

  • Navigate the healthcare system, including understanding health insurance coverage, filling out complex forms, and locating providers and services
  • Share personal information with providers, including health history and lifestyle (diet/exercise) information
  • Engage in self-care and chronic disease management, including tracking/attending medical appointments and understanding medication-taking regiments
  • Understand mathematical concepts such as probability and risk in order to make informed decisions about treatment options

Providers need to increasingly grasp a patient’s level of health literacy in order to “prescribe” how a patient can best manage his/her health.   According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, health care institutions and public health systems play a critical role in health literacy, because they can make it easier or more difficult for people to find and use health information and services. The success of health system reform will depend in large part on the capacity of individuals, families and communities to make informed decisions about their health.

Virtual care platforms can help address the limitations in a patient’s level of health literacy by providing patients with easier access to healthcare.

  • Messaging (e.g., email, text, SMS) can be created with the objective of improving health literacy, matching consumer preference in culture, language, and tone, and ensuring that providers and patients “speak the same language”
  • Virtual visits can enable providers to continue educating and empowering patients to practice self-care while patients remain comfortably and conveniently at-home
  • Ongoing communications should reflect patient preference in the devices they use and how/when they want to interact with their providers

If providers have limited time to spend educating patients, patients need to be more engaged and knowledgeable about their care.  Virtual care platforms can help providers more efficiently (and effectively) enlighten patients and drive deeper levels of health literacy.