Making health information understandable and jargon-free

Nearly 90% of Americans have difficulty using everyday health information that is routinely available. That makes it harder for patients to understand their options and make responsible, well-informed health decisions.

By using plain language – words and communications that everyone can understand the first time they read or hear it – the health community can significantly help patients. That’s why priority one of the Minnesota Action Plan to Improve Health Literacyis to adopt and use health literacy best practices across all verbal, written and visual communication.

Every person in an organization can make a difference. There are many ways that healthcare and insurance providers can improve communications to help patients and families understand their health information. Here are some key takeaways from the action plan: 

  • Use plain language and readable formats to deliver clear and concise health information. Using plain language helps people understand and use information the first time they read or hear it. Clear, concise information improves patients’ ability to understand and act on the information presented.
  • Adopt consistent terminology and standardize materials across the health system. Health insurance plans, health care providers, and health care facilities should agree upon definitions of common health terminology and use consistent language. This consistency will help patients recognize similar types of information available even if materials come from different health professionals.
  • Simplify explanations of insurance policy coverage. Providers, health care facilities, health insurance companies, community collaboratives, and agents should work together to provide clear information about cost that is readily accessible to consumers and enables them to make meaningful comparisons before receiving care.
  • Engage consumers in the creation of health materials. Health organizations should engage patients and communities in focus groups or patient advisory groups to test messages and determine what resources are missing or confusing.
  • Create a health literacy “seal of approval.” A “seal of approval” should be created to establish an industry standard of excellence for implementing efforts to improve health literacy.

In short, whether you are with a hospital, clinic, home-care setting, or insurance company, you have the power to help people improve their health literacy. Health materials and communications delivered with health literacy in mind help you do your job better, and it allows patients to be better patients.

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

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