What are effective health literacy education programs?
Let’s start by discussing what makes health literacy education programs succeed.|
Effective programs promote personal or organizational health literacy
Successful health literacy education programs improve personal or organizational health literacy.
Personal health literacy
Effective health literacy education programs for patients improve learners’ personal health literacy by boosting their health knowledge, skills, and beliefs. In the words of Healthy People 2030, these programs teach patients how to “find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.” For instance, they might teach patients how to manage their diabetes, enroll in a health plan, or find accurate health information online.
Organizational health literacy
Meanwhile, effective programs for healthcare providers improve learners’ organizational health literacy by helping them serve their patients better. To quote Healthy People 2030, these programs teach healthcare providers how to “equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.” For instance, they might teach healthcare providers how to use plain language, teach-back, or shared decision making.
What is the impact of effective health literacy education programs?
We’ve looked at what makes health literacy education programs succeed. Now let’s discuss why these programs are so important.
Promoting personal and organizational health literacy has benefits for patients, as well as for healthcare organizations and providers. Here are some of them.
Better patient self-management = better health outcomes
Boosting personal and organizational health literacy empowers patients to manage their health. For instance, it helps them correctly measure their medicine doses. Better self-management, in turn, improves health outcomes, such as lowering the rate of deaths caused by heart problems.
Better use of healthcare services = more efficient, less costly healthcare
At the same time, boosting personal and organizational health literacy improves use of healthcare services. That is, it increases use of preventive care (such as getting flu shots), while decreasing avoidable hospitalizations and use of emergency care. This makes healthcare more efficient and less costly.
Higher patient satisfaction
Boosting organizational health literacy also increases patient satisfaction. That is, it leads to higher scores on the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS).
Higher rewards for healthcare providers and organizations
Value-based programs (such as Medicare) reward healthcare providers and organizations for scoring well on such measures as health outcomes, patient safety, patient experience, efficiency, and cost. Better scores mean higher rewards.
Fewer legal problems for healthcare providers and organizations
Finally, health literate healthcare providers and organizations are less likely to face legal problems, such as malpractice claims. That’s because they are better communicators.
What are some types of health literacy education programs?
We’ve discussed why health literacy education programs are so important. Now let’s look at some types of programs.
Health literacy education programs include workshops, trainings, and classes. They may use a range of formats, including:
- 1-on-1 and group settings.
- Free and for a fee.
- In-person and virtual.
- Live and recorded.
- Instructor-led and self-guided.
What are some strategies for making health literacy education programs succeed?
We’ve looked at some types of health literacy education programs. Now let’s discuss some strategies for making these programs succeed—no matter who your learners are.
Provide accurate information
Make sure the program provides information that is accurate and up to date. Use reliable sources. Do a final check for accuracy. Use subject matter experts as needed.
Use effective communication
The program should use effective communication. Make sure teachers communicate well in speech (both live and recorded) and in the body cues they use. And create or choose written materials with effective text and design. Follow these tips.
Tips for speaking and writing:
- Use simple, everyday words. Avoid using unusual words, medical jargon, acronyms, and abbreviations. If you must use challenging words, spell them out or define them on first use. This is called using plain language.
- Be friendly. Pretend you’re communicating with friends. Speak or write directly to your audience by using the word “you.”
- Be brief. Don’t overwhelm your audience with health information. Instead, focus on the few key points they need to know.
- Give action steps. Tell your audience clearly what you want them to do.
- Use examples and stories. These can help you explain tough concepts. Plus, they engage your audience.
- Organize information. Put information in a logical order. Start with the most important information.
- Introduce and summarize. Start by saying what you’ll be covering. Close by summarizing key points.
Tips for speaking:
- Be kind. Consider your listener’s thoughts and feelings.
- Treat your listeners with respect. Honor their dignity as human beings. Avoid making assumptions. Instead, treat each person as an individual with unique needs.
- Take it slow. Speak at a moderate pace. Pause often. This gives your listener a chance to make sense of the health information.
- Invite questions. If you’re speaking to people live, encourage them to ask questions. Say something like: “What questions do you have for me today?”
Tips for writing:
- Use short sentences and paragraphs. Readers can get lost in a sea of words. Breaking your ideas down into short sentences and paragraphs is a better way to make your ideas clear. Focus each sentence or paragraph on one idea.
- Use lists. Where it makes sense, use numbered and bulleted lists (like this one). Lists break text into chunks that are easy to digest and remember. Try to limit lists to no more than seven items.
- Use headings and subheadings. Headings and subheadings (like the one above this list) tell readers what a section is about. You can use them to guide readers. Some people read only headings and subheadings. So make sure they contain useful information.
Tips for using body cues:
- Be friendly. Speak in a warm tone of voice. Also, smile and make eye contact (if appropriate).
- Be a good listener. When your audience speaks, pay attention, and don’t interrupt.
Tips for design:
- Make text easier to understand. For instance, choose a font style and size that make the text easy to read.
- Make text easier to use. For instance, use headings to guide readers.
- Choose images wisely. For instance, choose relevant images that enhance the text.
- Use images wisely. For instance, place images near the text they go with.
Use a variety of learning methods
People’s preferred learning methods vary. And individuals tend to learn best when they use more than one learning method. So make sure the program uses a range of methods.
For instance, learners can:
- Discuss ideas.
- Do group activities, such as role-playing.
- Do hands-on activities, such as labs.
- Go on field trips.
- Listen to lectures or audio recordings.
- Look at pictures or models.
- Watch demonstrations or videos.
- Write discussion posts, essays, or journal entries.
As you develop the program, involve all relevant stakeholders. For instance, you might include:
- Community leaders
- Cultural brokers (people who know a lot about your intended learners)
- Intended learners
This team approach is called co-creation. Try to use co-creation at each stage of development—from analysis to evaluation.
Use a tailored approach
Tailor the program to learners’ communication and learning needs.
Identify your learners
Decide who your intended learners are. Do you want to reach people with type 2 diabetes who are older than 65? Nurses? Be as specific as possible.
Identify your learners’ needs
Find out all you can about your intended learners’ communication and learning needs. For instance:
- What do they already know about the program’s topic? What do they still need to learn? What are their specific goals and problems in relation to this topic?
- How well do they communicate about health? Do they have any disabilities or other challenges that make this harder?
- What language(s) do they use very well?
- What are their cultural beliefs and practices related to the program’s topic?
Focus groups and interviews are some ways to collect data on your intended learners. (Note: Be sure to collect data on your actual learners at registration.)
Address your learners’ needs
Using what you learned, work to address learners’ communication and learning needs. For instance, the program should meet the communication needs of people who don’t speak, read, or write English very well (patients with limited English proficiency). For instance, they may need a healthcare interpreter (someone trained to convert health information from one language into another). They may also need materials written in their language.
In addition, the program should support the communication needs of patients with disabilities and other challenges. For instance, people who have trouble hearing may communicate best with written materials. If they use spoken communication, they may need a quiet setting and a sign language interpreter.
Here are some examples of ways to address learners’ needs:
- Paula’s best language for speaking and writing is Spanish. She needs a qualified healthcare interpreter and written materials in Spanish.
- Carter is Deaf. He needs a qualified sign language interpreter, along with written materials.
- Pete has low personal health literacy. He needs pictures, models, and videos. He also needs written materials that are suitable for people with low health literacy.
- Aisha has low vision. She needs audio recordings, as well as written materials with large print.
Use a systemic process
Finally, when you develop a program, it’s best to use a systemic process. Such a process helps ensure that the program will succeed.
For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests using the ADDIE model to develop trainings for adult learners. This cyclical model has five stages: