Increased Health Literacy Leads To Better Health Outcomes

Earlier this week, UnitedHealthGroup released a study reaffirming the importance of health literacy.

The study “illustrate[s] the importance of increasing health literacy as a key component in driving better health outcomes and improving health care affordability. Seniors — who use more health care services, have more chronic conditions, and take more medications compared to other age groups — benefit from increased health literacy levels because it helps them make informed decisions and enhances their health care experience.”

Furthermore, the statistics provided by the study are astounding. It mentions that “On average, Medicare beneficiaries in counties with the highest health literacy levels experience better outcomes than those living in counties with the lowest health literacy levels, including: 31% more flu shots, 26% fewer avoidable hospitalizations, 18% fewer emergency department visits, 13% lower costs per beneficiary, [and] 9% fewer hospital readmissions.”

Indeed, these numbers are eye-opening.

But this focus on health literacy is by no means new or groundbreaking. In fact, large-scale health organizations such as the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) have emphasized the importance of health literacy for many years.

The AAFP states: “Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health care decisions. The American Academy of Family Physicians champions the promotion of health literacy throughout all aspects of the healthcare system including but not limited to strategic and organizational design, research and quality improvement metrics and provision of direct patient care, especially to patients with low health literacy. Family physicians, medical staff, residents and medical students should receive training on health literacy and communication strategies to improve patient engagement and self-management.”

Accordingly, healthcare trainees at all levels are increasingly being exposed to these concepts as a means to achieve better healthcare outcomes. Now, more so than ever before, healthcare systems and leaders are finally starting look at systemic tools and ways in which healthcare outcomes can be improved, rather than fostering a “reactive” approach.

Regardless, as empircal research continues to show the potentially substantial and numerous benefits to the healthcare system, investing in health literacy may indeed be a viable investment for the future of patient care.

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