From adhering to a medication to learning more about a diagnosis, every day we rely on our customers to make choices about their health: both big and small. But in an already overly-complex healthcare system, not understanding or having access to the information they need can make a huge difference in their ability to address a health issue.

Defined as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information needed to make appropriate health decisions, health literacy is one of the most pressing challenges in our industry. In the United States alone, an estimated 90 million Americans have low health literacy, which can lead to higher medical costs, increased ER visits and hospital admissions, and decreased access to health care.

As healthcare researchers, communicators and marketers, it’s our responsibility to bring forth solutions that can empower them to make informed choices about their health. To help us do so, we identified two key best practices for addressing low health literacy and took a look at the human truths behind them to help us better understand what we can do for our patients.

Be Mindful of the Words We Use

Nobody wants to navigate a health decision unprepared. But, unfortunately, patients are often faced with deciphering complex medical jargon and technical terms that can make it even harder for them to understand what to do next. Their desire to feel informed and capable of managing their health is what we refer to as mastery, the need to feel competent and able to manage the world and challenges we face. It’s one of six core psychological needs that are particularly relevant to our healthcare experiences. And, like the others, when it goes unfulfilled, it can cause someone to feel stressed, frustrated and riddled with doubt, pain or fear.

What we can do: use easy-to-understand terms and shorter sentences in both verbal and written communications. According to, our written content should allow patients to quickly find what they need, understand what they find, and use what they find to meet their needs.

Watch Out for Information or Choice Overload

From the number of treatment options in any one category to the abundance of resources available to learn more about a particular health condition, there’s an overwhelming number of choices available to patients in our industry. So many, in fact, that it can become quite demotivating or even paralyzing for them to try and make sense of it all on their own. And when you think about the limited amount of information we can actually retain on a given day, getting a true understanding of what’s available is often impacted by our inability to deeply process it like we need to or would hope to.

What we can do: quickly get patients to the information they need the most by curating a  narrower set of choices or information, focusing their available options on what a peer group or similar healthcare user might need or choose.

About the Author:

Khye Tucker is an Innovation Strategist in Columbus, OH. With a passion for writing and a background in communications, Khye strives to bring brand stories to life through a fresh perspective, innovative thinking and creative storytelling.