Simple Strategies for Improving Employee Health Literacy
Health literacy is a person’s ability to find, understand, evaluate, and use information to make informed decisions about healthcare, overall wellness, and medical issues.
Limited health literacy significantly affects employees’ overall well-being and company healthcare costs. Employees with low health literacy are more likely to skip preventative exams, end up in emergency rooms when conditions escalate, and face issues when managing chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension.
A study from 2022 estimated that poor health literacy added a cost of between $106 billion and $238 billion each year.1
The good news is there are simple, practical steps employers can take to improve health literacy for their employees. Doing so leads to more intelligent healthcare consumers, better overall population health outcomes, increased productivity, fewer sick days, and lower healthcare expenses over time.
Let’s discuss health literacy in more depth, review some simple strategies for improving health literacy among employees, and explore some resources for employee health literacy improvement.
What is Health Literacy?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 90% of adults struggle to understand and distill personal and public health information when it’s filled with complex language.
This means they struggle to comprehend basic health information necessary to understand their medical conditions, follow medication instructions properly, manage chronic illnesses, and make other important health decisions.
The CDC divides health literacy into separate functions for individuals and organizations.
Personal health literacy is “the degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.”
Organizational health literacy is defined as “the degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.”
As an employer, improving your organizational health literacy will lead to greater personal health literacy among your employees.
Make Preventative Health Strategies Accessible
Accessibility is key to improving health literacy, health outcomes, and overall employee well-being. Personal and public health information should be easy to find, written in simple language, and disseminated across multiple platforms. Employees should feel empowered to ask questions and start conversations.
Let’s dig a little deeper into these accessibility strategies.
Provide Health Information in Clear, Simple Language
Use plain, straightforward language for all health communication. Avoid complex medical jargon in benefit plan descriptions, wellness program details, and health education resources.
If you use specialized terms, define them. For example, explain the differences between co-pays, co-insurance, and out-of-pocket maximums during conversations about insurance plans.
One way to empower employees is to use an active, first-person voice when possible. This can be as simple as changing the sentence from “Free flu shots are available on October 1st” to “You can get a free flu shot at this location on this date.”
Offer Visual Aids
When presenting vital information, use simple infographics, charts, and videos – visual aids reinforce written messages and increase accessibility for everyone.
Consider using an infographic with simple diagrams highlighting the differences between insurance tiers or a video that shows how to use an inhaler properly.
Many insurance carriers will have existing visual tools you can share with employees.
A simple way to increase health literacy is to encourage two-way communication. Don’t just passively distribute health information to your employees; start a conversation and encourage feedback and questions.
Leverage Multiple Media Channels
You can increase the reach of your health information by using multiple channels for distribution. Try print materials, email, intranet posts, social media, live meetings, or slide presentations so individuals have plenty of opportunities to soak up important information.
Partner with Local Health Organizations
Many community resources are skilled in increasing health literacy. Public libraries and health non-profits often provide health literacy training programs, workshops, coaching services, and other resources. Ask about lunch-and-learn sessions, health fairs, or services like benefit counseling and nurse health lines for another layer of access.
Provide Wellness Initiatives
Wellness initiatives can be beneficial for employee engagement while increasing health literacy. Apps like Fresh Tri – which uses a neuroscience-backed method to improve health and wellness – gamify healthy eating, moving more, and improving mental health. It makes habit change fun! Fresh Tri is free for everyone. It uses gentle nudges and a no-failure approach to mindset shifts that lead to better well-being in the workplace.
Resources for Employee Health Literacy
There are many resources available from government agencies, non-profits, and other organizations that work daily to improve health literacy in the United States.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has improvement tools, professional education and training, and many publications, all focused on helping organizations increase health literacy skills.
Improving Employee Health Literacy
Improving health literacy among employees can lead to better health outcomes and lower healthcare costs, and employers play a leading role. It may feel overwhelming, but incorporating small changes can pay big dividends for both your employees and your company.
When employees improve their health literacy, they better understand health benefits, follow treatment protocols, and make educated decisions leading to smarter healthcare consumption, improved population health, and lower healthcare costs.
Improving workforce health literacy does require some investment, but the end results – healthier and happier employees, lower healthcare expenses, and reduced absenteeism – are absolutely worth it.
Empower employees to take charge of their health with information they can comprehend and put into practice. We’re here to help! Download the Fresh Tri app and get started today.
Shahid, R., Shoker, M., Chu, L.M. et al. Impact of low health literacy on patients’ health outcomes: a multicenter cohort study. BMC Health Serv Res 22, 1148 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12913-022-08527-9