A marketer’s enhanced job description: brand building through health literacy

“As clinicians, what we say does not matter unless our patients are able to understand the information we give them well enough to use it to make good health care decisions. Otherwise, we didn’t reach them, and that is the same as if we didn’t treat them.”
R.M. Benjamin, Surgeon General’s Perspective for Improving Health by Improving Health Literacy (2010)

Every day, people in our communities make health care choices for themselves, their children, and their parents. These can be life-changing decisions, and having health literacy – defined as the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions – is critical to positive health outcomes. However, research clearly shows that most health information today is not developed and presented in a way most adults can use:

  • Nearly 9 out of 10 adults have difficulty using the everyday health information that is routinely available in our healthcare facilities, retail outlets, media and communities.
  • Without clear information and an understanding of the information’s importance, people are more likely to skip necessary medical tests, end up in the emergency room more often, and have a harder time managing chronic diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure.

The implications for how clinicians deliver care are clear, but Marketing has an equally important role in promoting health literacy. We need to speak and write in a way that patients understand. Part of our brand becomes our promise to communicate in terms that are clear in intent, simple in language and consistent in message. Whether through social media, community education classes, print ads or news spots, the degree to which we successfully provide information to patients is directly correlated to excellent patient outcomes, thereby advancing our brand.

Are you evaluating your marketing initiatives with an eye toward improving health literacy? Does your staff know the tools to use to ensure relevant content, cultural appropriateness and correctly assess literacy levels?

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