The impact of health knowledge and what care managers can do to improve health literacy in 2023
In October 2022, VirtualHealth discussed the rising importance of health literacy with Christy Calhoun, MPH, Chief Content Officer, Healthwise, and our own Lori Coates, N-BC, CCM, CCTM, Director of Population Health and Value-Based Care Solutions. Here, we further explore the benefits of improving health literacy through patient education, highlighting some key learnings from our recent conversation with Christy and Lori.
“Taking care of your health is a challenge for all of us. But having access to accurate, engaging health education is such a foundational part of that journey. A patient’s ability to understand and manage a health condition, to care for themselves, to follow a doctor’s instructions and care plans, to take their medicine properly…all of these small but important steps are improved when people have access to clear health education that they trust.” – Christy Calhoun, MPH, Chief Content Officer, Healthwise
When it comes to improving care plan compliance and, ultimately, health outcomes and quality of life for members, knowledge truly is power. A growing body of research supports the importance of health education, with findings that include the following:
- Improved medication adherence. Rheumatoid arthritis patients who received education showed significant improvement in medication adherence, according to a study published in Patient Preference and Adherence.
- Better outcomes for chronic disease patients. Patients with chronic diseases who received 45 minutes of education experienced better outcomes, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.
- Numerous quality-of-life benefits. Research published in Seminars in Oncology Nursing cited by Krames found that cancer patients who received education about their chemotherapy treatments experienced several benefits, including enhanced self-care, reduced anxiety, and better pain control.
- Increased patient satisfaction with care. The same research on cancer patients also correlated education with higher patient satisfaction.
Three Positive Impacts of Strengthening Health Literacy
Effective patient education helps member populations develop better health literacy, defined by the Healthy People 2030 Initiative as, “the degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.”
Coates and Calhoun pointed out additional ways improving health literacy through education can result in better outcomes, citing the following in our recent interview:
Stronger patient engagement. Education is organically intertwined with engagement. “Patients cannot meaningfully engage in self-management activities if they don’t understand their health conditions, the importance of adherence to medication and treatments, and how their current behavior is impacting their overall health,” Coates said.
Improved health equity. Health literacy serves as a bridge to health equity, according to Coates. That means organizations themselves need to be health literate, delivering clear, easy-to-understand health education content that’s accessible to everyone.
Calhoun agreed, saying, “Improving health literacy for everyone helps to level the playing field and contributes to more equitable health. We all have a shared responsibility to make sure educational materials are easily accessible, trustworthy, high-quality, accurate, free from jargon, and made for all healthcare consumers.”
Enhanced knowledge for caregivers. Improving health literacy is also beneficial for caregivers supporting members’ health needs. For example, first-time parents stressed out by newborn care, parents navigating a teen’s new ADHD diagnosis, or someone taking care of a parent with dementia. they all need education that’s tailored to bridge knowledge gaps, build confidence, and help them master care-related tasks for members depending on them.
What Can Care Managers Do to Improve Patient Education?
The impacts of poor health literacy demand attention. “Low to moderate health literacy often hinders patients from being able to engage in complex disease management and self-care, which can result in increased medication errors, emergency visits, admissions, avoidable readmissions, disease exacerbation, and even a higher mortality rate,” Coates said.
How can care managers overcome barriers to effective patient education? Here are some key considerations to keep in mind.
Assess every member’s health literacy skills
Assume that every member is at risk of not understanding health information. Assess health literacy skills for insight into the most effective way to communicate verbal instruction or to select an appropriate reading level for written materials, for example. Consider other factors that affect health literacy and impact learning, such as cultural background, religion, and social determinants of health (SDOH, such as access to nutrition, education level).
Develop trust and rapport with members
Care managers need to forge an ongoing relationship with members to understand how to best communicate health information in a way that will result in positive change.
“Through inquiry and listening, you gain insights that you can use in health education – like real-world metaphors, language, and messages that make sense and resonate with people based on their life situations. Taking the time to understand why people are hesitant, why they may have misunderstandings, and then tailoring the approach to help them move in the right direction and get the care they need – that’s how you advance health literacy,” Calhoun said.
Tailor learning content and approaches uniquely to individual members
A cookie-cutter approach to member education just won’t work. For example, emailing the same attachment with healthy lifestyle changes to every member with diabetes isn’t enough. Engaging individual members requires a personalized education plan.
“That means leveraging multi-media materials in print and digital, utilizing plain language; translating materials into the language of choice for the member; incorporating content that takes different learning styles into account (i.e., audio, visual, kinesthetic); and ensuring cultural competency and sensitivity,” Coates said.
Assess the impact of education efforts within the organization
Care managers can evaluate the impact of educational resources by asking members for a return demonstration of a task, asking them to repeat back instructions, and asking open-ended questions to pinpoint areas that may need reinforcement.
Measuring the impact of a current health education program is key to identifying where gaps may still exist, where care managers or others need further training, and to help evaluate if certain topics are more difficult to address than others.
HELIOS & Healthwise: Simplify Health Education Delivery
HELIOS unifies care teams on one medical management platform. By integrating health education leader Healthwise into the HELIOS partner ecosystem, VirtualHealth is supporting better, more accessible health information for all users’ member populations.
With access to Healthwise content through HELIOS, care managers can quickly find evidence-based, trustworthy educational resources relevant to a member’s health needs – and in formats that match learning styles and preferences. This partnership empowers care managers to:
- Efficiently develop a member care plan and prescribe follow-up education, all within a single workflow
- Tailor education to a member’s learning style and health literacy level for maximum impact
- Deliver motivating content like videos and visual aides
- Instantly share content with members on new diagnoses, preventive screenings, or upcoming procedures
- Gain insight into content utilization, allowing for personalized interactions and care planning