For an entire industry designed to help people be well, the U.S. healthcare system isn’t currently built to help people be well-informed. Our healthcare system and its corresponding information is so complex that less than half of U.S. consumers understand how to navigate it successfully.
With legal jargon, medical lingo, charts, graphs and technology-based solutions—it can be hard for a person to come to the table fully prepared to talk about their health in a meaningful and productive way. It can be intimidating to have to confirm the next steps, or ask for instructions to be repeated or documents to be explained. No one should have to feel “less than” while trying to fill out their insurance forms, paperwork or medical history.
Where you live and who you are shouldn’t impact the type of care you can receive. Unfortunately, that’s the reality for so many folks when it comes to healthcare and their own health literacy.
Understanding health literacy
Health literacy is, in short, the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. The level of health literacy can be influenced by a few things, including:
- Providers using words patients don’t understand
- Level of education
- Cultural barriers
- Limited English proficiency
- Access to digital platforms
The U.S. has an incredibly low health literacy rate. So much so, in fact, that a 2018 Accenture study estimated that health payers face $4.8 billion in administrative costs each year from Americans with low healthcare system literacy who need more customer service assistance to navigate complexity.
This cost has increased to $10 billion annually due to declining healthcare system literacy. The brunt of the burden falls on the one in four U.S. consumers who has both low healthcare system literacy and a high need for intervention. According to Accenture, “These are people who are more likely to have serious health conditions, including high-cost and pervasive conditions such as cancer, congestive heart failure or renal failure among others. They also have a higher need for weekly and monthly interactions with customer service.”
Where does the responsibility of health literacy fall? Is it on the shoulders of the providers? Big pharma? The people seeking help? Marketing?
As Samwise Gamgee once said, it’s important that we all “share the load.” Because it never hurts to ask for help when it means a better outcome for the greater good.
Big ideas, small words
All language exists to help people understand one another, to share ideas and communicate thoughts. But not all language is created equitably. Not everyone is an expert in all things—so it becomes difficult to communicate big ideas when the big words aren’t translating well. And it becomes frustrating to seek out help when there are hoops to jump through and policies to navigate—each with their own set of terms and conditions that become increasingly harder to comprehend.
That’s where plain language comes in. Plain language is clear and concise. It is organized for an audience to understand big ideas in a small space. Plain language is speaking at the level of those who understand least in order to create a playing field that allows for two-way, beneficial conversation.
There are established principles to plain language that guide writers toward the right path of communication. But it can be difficult for big brands, companies and providers to write or even speak plainly when they are an expert in their space—especially in the realm of healthcare. Often, a subject matter expert may think they are speaking in terms that are easily understood by their intended audience; however, the message doesn’t land in the intended way. This isn’t because the expert doesn’t know what they’re talking about. And it’s not because they aren’t saying the right things.
It’s because the right things aren’t being communicated in the right way.
Adjusting the lens for learning
Finding the right filter for your content takes a keen eye. You need someone who can see the forest for the trees and vice versa.
That’s where writers come in. And designers. And strategists. Agencies like StoneArch are full to the brim with creative and strategic folks who are chomping at the bit to help make the complex more clear, the intricate more inviting, and the answers more accessible. Like an eye doctor, we get in there and examine it all. And along the way we help you figure out what’s best.
We take the raw research, specs, data and studies, and we see which lens works best—making sure to include empathy at every step along the way. More often than not, a patient is in a less than normal state of mind when they are dealing with the hurdles of healthcare. We make sure to meet them where they are with the right tone, cadence and cues to ensure they are receptive to the information they need.
Most health-related materials are written at the 10th grade level or above. However, the “average” American reads at the 8th grade level or below. How does our team account for that in our work?
Design the perspective
Plain language extends to design, as well. Because good design is so much more than beautiful elements, it’s a visual expression created to convey meaning beyond words. Not everyone learns the same way, so it’s important to include visual learners wherever you can. There are many ways to bring more meaning to content with well-designed collateral. For example:
- Break big paragraphs into lists. Bite-size chunks make for easier digestion.
- Include icons next to important statements. Visual cues go a long way to reinforce the text and showcase important information.
- Add headlines at relevant points throughout the content. The eyes will skim and scan before they read the whole piece—visually breaking up the content lets the reader find the high-level info they need on first glance.
- Employ color to code content. For example, red and green are universally used to explain DOs and DON’Ts.
- Increase the font size of the most pertinent information. The bigger the text, the more likely to be read.
- White space is your friend. A page full of text is rarely well-received, so it’s best to let the creative work breathe.
Above all, don’t design for the sake of good design. Create with a mind to inform and the design will follow.
Write to the purpose
In any form of written content, the author wants their readers to walk away knowing something. Quality content answers the reader’s questions before they are asked—and does so in a way that is easy to follow. To write plainly, your content should be able to:
- Explain the purpose right away. Don’t make the reader guess.
- Limit copy length. The fewer words, the better.
- Ask yourself, “Can this be said in less space?”
- Include only pertinent information and leave the “nice to know” content for further on down the content funnel.
- Involve the reader. Use “you” and “your” when speaking directly to the audience.
- Provide next steps. Never leave your reader hanging, wondering what to do next. A clear call to action goes a long way.
- Avoid jargon to avoid alienating your audience. Acronyms are only helpful when the reader knows what they mean—always assume they don’t.
- Restate the most important info. It’s a quick, easy way to confirm comprehension.
Most importantly, speak to the audience. Don’t play to the stakeholders.
Removing obstacles to healthy outcomes
Intuitive design paired with good, clean copy creates marketing collateral that speaks clearly and simply. However, with such complicated and intricate topics, many healthcare companies fall short in providing quality information at a level that reaches the people who need their products and solutions most.
The right creative work has the power to inform, entice and empower its audience with the tools required to understand their own health needs. The right creative partner understands how to translate your in-depth information into bite-sized morsels of digestible content.
At StoneArch, we pride ourselves on humanizing the clinical. Our teams create work that empathizes with and guides its audiences to clear next steps and solutions on their health journeys.
Does your creative do that?