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Health Literacy

July 1, 2009
Posted by Susan Weissman

I recently learned a few surprising statistics. According to the Institute of Medicine who published a landmark study, “Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion,” almost one-half of all U.S. adults, or approximately 90 million people, have difficulty understanding and acting on health information. Wow. And here’s another one: low-literacy patients seeking emergency treatment for non-life threatening conditions are twice as likely to be hospitalized as are patients with adequate literacy skills (Baker et al. 1998). So, the financial impact is huge for all of us ($73 billion per year, Kilker 2000).

What do we do if we’re not being understood? Things we already know but get talked out of by our clients, our bosses, etc. Think about the people we’re talking to, put yourself in their shoes while writing. Keep it simple — write the way people speak, not corporate speak, no medical or technical jargon. Don’t write to impress (it doesn’t work anyway). Be friendly and warm. Less is more. I better follow my own advice and sign off.

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