Integrating Health Literacy into Your Organization: Subtle Issues to Consider

From left to right: Jann Keenan, EdS, Janet Ohene-Frempong, MS

From left to right: Jann Keenan, EdS, Janet Ohene-Frempong, MS

Jann Keenan and Janet Ohene-Frempong explained how to integrate health literacy into your organization. They listed issues to consider along the way.

They noted that health literacy reform has worked in pharmaceutical companies, the insurance industry, state health departments, hospitals, and government agencies. They believe that this is “a golden age for organizational change”.

A health literate organization makes it easier for people to navigate, understand, and use information and services so they can take care of their health, the presenters said. They listed the Institute of Medicine’s implied action steps for becoming a health literate organization:

  1. Make health literacy integral to your mission, structure, and operations.
  2. Integrate health literacy into planning, evaluation measures, patient safety, and quality improvement.
  3. Prepare your workforce to be health literate and monitor your progress at doing so.
  4. Include populations served in the design, implementation, and evaluation of health information and services.
  5. Meet the needs of populations that have a range of health literacy skills, while avoiding stigmatization.
  6. Use health literacy strategies in interpersonal communication and confirm understanding at all points of contact.
  7. Provide easy access to health information and services and navigation assistance.
  8. Design and distributes print, audiovisual, and social media content that is easy to understand and act on.
  9. Address health literacy in high-risk situations, including care transitions and communications about medicines.
  10. Communicate clearly what health plans cover and what individuals will have to pay for services.

The presenters discussed some common roadblocks to integrating health literacy into an organization:

  • A lack of compassion and commitment
  • A lack of time and money
  • Legal and regulatory requirements
  • The need to hire, train, and retain staff
  • The need for industry specific guidelines
  • The challenge of including marginal readers
  • The challenges of health system complexity

They offered detailed strategies for how to navigate these roadblocks, based on the IOM’s guidelines.