The importance of relevant and accessible health information

When it comes to communication, it’s not just what you say but how you say it.

Health information can be technical and complex, and there can be an over-reliance on written communication. That’s why it’s important for patients and their caregivers to have access to usable information presented in a variety of ways so they can understand diagnoses, make treatment and prevention decisions, and evaluate health risks.

A key priority of the Minnesota Action Plan to Improve Health Literacyis to make information about health relevant and accessible for many diverse groups. Here are some strategies you can use to make your health content easy to access, read and understand:

  • Use a variety of formats to distribute materials. Patients and caregivers come from many different ethnic, cultural, and mental health backgrounds. What is simple to understand for one person may not be for another. To help all patients, we recommend health professionals conduct a thorough review of their available resources to determine what materials are available, the potential gaps in information, the resources that may be too complex, and the changes that should be made to the types and formats of resources. Here are some quick tips:
    • Use action-oriented information, so patients know what to do.
    • Add case studies and anecdotes which are a great way to help illustrate facts.
    • Diversify the language, format and delivery of materials to broaden the reach.
    • Provide captions for online photos and charts so that people who use assistive technologies, such as screen readers, still get the information they need.
  • Disseminate health resources and materials in places where people already congregate, not just where they receive care. The best-written content is useless if your audience can’t access it.         Here are some popular locations to consider sharing important health information:

    • Health fairs
    • Public libraries
    • Government buildings
    • Schools, colleges and universities
    • Businesses
    • Community centers
    • Neighborhood associations
    • Salons and barbershops 
    • Senior centers
    • Public housing
    • Homeless shelters
    • Clubhouses for people living with mental illness
    • Places of worship
    • Shopping center kiosks and/or storefronts
    • Cultural organizations
    • State and county fairs
    • Fitness centers
    • Transportation and commuting areas (e.g., buses, light rail trains, bus stops, and highway billboards)
    • Online (e.g. websites and social media)

For more information and tips, read the Minnesota Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy.

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