Featured in STAT News
The push is on to make all Americans “well-informed, savvy users of health care.”
That makes perfect sense for the 12 percent of us who have what experts call health literacy. But where will it leave the 77 million American adults with poor health literacy, meaning they have difficulty with common health tasks like following instructions on a drug label or on a standard childhood immunization schedule? The solution could be in the palms of their hands.
The Pew Research Center estimates that 92 percent of Americans owned cellphones in 2015, including 68 percent who had smartphones. Those numbers were consistent across demographic groups including ethnic minorities, who are disproportionately affected by low health literacy. By creating easily understood health information that is accessible on a smartphone or other internet-connected device, we could provide real-time, relevant, and accurate information to the vast majority of Americans.
One of the many advantages of digital tools is that they can be personalized. Today’s technology is smart enough to deliver to individuals the right information at the right time in the most effective manner. Because these tools are extremely flexible, they could easily incorporate educational features, communication functions, health checklists and guidance, price comparisons, and more. The possibilities for digital tools in addressing health literacy are endless.
Digital technologies can also teach us about health literacy and improve our ability to convey essential information to various populations. They automatically log usage and collect data. And they’ll be able to see what percentage of consumers are using the tool, how they’re using it, and where there are consistent stopping points. This information will let researchers and policymakers analyze how well health literacy programs work and, if needed, quickly provide updates to improve them.
Why does this matter? Low health literacy has been linked to increased hospitalizations, increased use of emergency care, lower use of mammography and other screening tools, and poorer ability to interpret health messages.
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