Who are health consumers?
At sometime or another, we’re all health consumers. Consumers come in every age, gender identity, race and ethnicity. Our education and socio-economic levels span the continuum. Communicating effectively with health consumers in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner requires consideration for consumers’ unique needs, preferences and values. Communication efforts benefit from consumer involvement in development, design, testing and refinement.
The term “consumer” is often used interchangeably with the term “patient.” “Consumer” is considered more broadly applicable because it takes into account time spent acting on one’s health both within and outside of clinical settings. It also conveys a sense of equality and choice.
Why does health literacy matter to consumers?
In order to meet their health needs, consumers must find, understand, evaluate, communicate, and use information. Their ability to do so, combined with the accessibility of what’s being communicated, can influence health outcomes. What happens when a mother understands the dosing instructions on her infant’s medication bottle? What happens when she does not and gives the baby too much or too little medicine?
Consumers are becoming increasingly accustomed to intuitive products and services, and this trend extends to health care. As demand grows for pricing transparency and convenience, so to will the expectation that health information be easy to understand and act on. Today, the vast majority of adults in the U.S. find health information difficult to understand and act on. The National Assessment of Adult Literacy revealed:
- Over 75 million adults combined had Basic and Below Basic health literacy.
- Only 33 percent of adults with graduate-level education had Proficient health literacy.
- Adults age 65 and older had lower average health literacy scores than adults in the younger age groups.
Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy.