Who are organization leaders?
Leaders within organizations are those in positions of influence, responsible for creating policy and prioritizing initiatives – often with budget authority. Leaders help determine an organization’s culture, which infuses everything the organization does and stands for. It comes as no surprise that of the 10 Attributes of a Health Literate Health Care Organization, leadership support is listed first: “A health literate health care organization has leadership that makes health literacy integral to its mission, structure, and operations.”
Why does health literacy matter to organization leaders?
Low health literacy can have a significant impact on a health care organization’s bottom and on the lives of those it serves. Laws like the Affordable Care Act and an increasing focus on value- and results-based care elevated the role consumer understanding has on health outcomes. From a strictly financial perspective, leaders have a vested interest in making sure consumers understand what they need to do to care for themselves after leaving the hospital. If they don’t, hospitals can be penalized for unnecessary readmissions. National estimates put the cost of low health literacy to the U.S. economy between $106 billion to $238 billion per year (see: Low Health Literacy: Implications for National Health Policy).
From a social and ethical perspective, leaders care about health literacy because it means their personnel have the skills to meaningfully engage consumers and, most importantly, consumers have the opportunity to improve their health because they have access to information that they can understand and act on. Not understanding health information can lead to harm. Organizations dedicated to helping consumers thrive will not be able to fulfill their missions without addressing health literacy.