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The Silent Epidemic: Unveiling the Truth About Health Literacy

Are you looking for a way to improve patient outcomes? Focus on improving the health literacy of your patients. Healthy literacy isn’t about just understanding medical terminology; it’s about being able to find, understand, and act on the information and services that inform health-related decisions and actions.

doctor talking to patient

Why it matters: Health literacy affects how patients consume information, how they make decisions about their health and the health of others, and how they navigate the complexity of the healthcare system. But here’s the kicker—low health literacy isn’t just an individual issue; it reflects broader social disparities. Low health literacy can spin up additional costs, put a strain on the healthcare system, and worsen health outcomes for patients. And that’s where the real problem lies. 

Need proof? Here are five health literacy facts about that shocked us: 

  • 9 out of 10 adults in the US struggle with health literacy. And it’s hitting marginalized communities the hardest, leaving millions unable to access quality care or maintain healthy behaviors.

  • 88% of US adults don’t understand how to navigate the healthcare system. Even those who are proficient in health literacy often have difficulty moving through the complexity of the healthcare system.

  • Healthcare professionals often assume patients understand more than they do, leading to miscommunication and, ultimately, poorer health outcomes. It’s like patients and providers are speaking a different language—literally!

  • 77  million Americans have difficulty attempting to use health services, obtain quality care, and maintain healthy behaviors because their health literacy is inadequate. Adults with lower health literacy are more likely to return incomplete medical forms/assessment tools, miss appointments with health providers, and neglect follow-ups to required medical procedures.

  • Social media can actually be a game-changer when it comes to health literacy. Social media is proving to extend far beyond selfies and life updates; it’s an avenue to empower individuals to take control of their health. From sharing experiences to getting advice, social media can be a powerful way to help patients feel more capable and confident to make informed decisions about their health. 

So, what can you, as a healthcare provider, do to help? You have a crucial role to play. While the statistics surrounding health literacy cannot be changed overnight, there are some quick wins healthcare providers can lean on to make a meaningful difference. 

Five ways to improve the health literacy of your patients:

  • Dive into social media: Your patients are already there, soaking up information. Be their beacon of reliable health advice. With an active social media presence, you can have a greater influence on patient health behaviors. Social media for healthcare is on the rise–make sure you’re meeting your patients where they’re already looking for information.

  • Keep it simple: This is the one time you can not think like a medical doctor. Toss aside medical terminology and write like you are talking to a friend—not a colleague. The simpler you can communicate, the better. Writing this way will keep your content usable, readable, and accessible to the majority of the population. 

  • Consistently repeat key messages: It often takes seven times for a person to retain information, so don’t hesitate to repeat the important messages you want patients to remember, whether that's in-person, in your portal, or on your social media channels.

  • Evaluate your systems: Are they patient-friendly? Are they easily accessible? Regularly audit your systems and processes to make it easier for everyone to access care.

  • Don’t overlook the relationship you have with patients: As much as we rely on technology, nothing is more powerful than the personal relationship patients have with their healthcare provider. Lean into that relationship, continue to build trust, be accessible to answer patient questions, and show them why they continue to turn to you for support.There’s no Wi-Fi required for this one! 

Improving health literacy isn’t just about ticking boxes; it’s about empowering individuals to take charge of their health. And it will pay off for your practice, too! Soon you’ll see lower no-show rates, fewer trips to the emergency room, better medication adherence, and more patients coming in for preventative care. Learn more about how Social Cascade can help. 



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