Hypertension, hyperlipidemia, COPD. Do you know what these three terms mean? Do these terms affect you? Many people experience difficulties in navigating medical information because the expertise medical providers offer is ideally paired with patients who are prepared and empowered when it comes to their health. Here is where the idea of “health literacy” comes into play.
What is health literacy?
Health literacy is made up of two dimensions, personal and organizational. With the recognition of these two dimensions, it is clear that health literacy is more than just the individual. Individuals need the resources made available through organizations to improve their health literacy.
Personal health literacy is “the degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decision and actions for themselves and others.”1
Organizational health literacy is “the degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves”2
Why is health literacy important?
Healthy literacy is crucial because it enables people to locate the best medical care and services, manage chronic illnesses or conditions, and/or simply maintain their health and wellness. Because of the pressures placed on them and/or the complexity of the existing health care system, people with inadequate health literacy may find that a health problem overwhelms them.
Patients may develop low levels of health literacy from low educational skills, poor knowledge of health topics, cultural barriers to accessing health care, and language barriers. Approximately 80 million Americans have limited health literacy, which puts them at greater risk for poorer access to care and poorer health outcomes.3 Low levels of health literacy impacts a patients ability to fill out forms, understand health insurance, share personal information, engage in managing conditions, and understanding medication.
Although poor health literacy affects everyone, elderly and chronically ill individuals are most at risk of the affects. Older adults may experience physical problems like hearing or vision loss making it challenging to read or understand. Furthermore, 80% of adults over age 65 have at least one chronic condition.4 Chronic conditions are complex, and the care management requires active participation from the patient. Lack of knowledge and understanding can lead to low levels of engagement and poor outcomes.
The advancement of technology and the adoption of virtual care has a large impact on the improvement of health literacy.
Virtual care’s impact
Virtual care platforms provide easier access to healthcare which helps address the limitations in a patient’s level of health literacy. The VitalCare technology is designed to encourage and improve health literacy. Through VitalCare:
- Providers and patients can connect using video and audio calls, as well as send messages back and forth through the HIPPA-compliant portal. Patients benefit from more interactions with their provider. Providers should make health literacy a priority when speaking with their patient.
- Educational materials about patient specific conditions can be uploaded by providers. Information shared with patients through the VitalCare platform are easy to read and can be accessed whenever. The ability for a patient to review instructions at their desired pace can significantly increase understanding and compliance.
- Medication reminders and thresholds can be set for each patient. VitalCare’s medication module may be used to monitor compliance and effectiveness. If a family member or clinician notices a patient has not been regularly taking their medication, they are able to reach out via VitalCare to send gentle reminders to aid in adherence, as well as educate the patient on the importance of taking their medications and how it effects their condition(s).
Through VitalCare, patients receive better access to their provider which allows patients to become more engaged and knowledgeable about their condition and care management. A growing body of evidence shows that people with higher patient activation (i.e., the knowledge, skills, and confidence to become actively engaged in their health care) have better health outcomes5.
VitalTech promotes the importance of understanding health information and brings awareness of breaking down the barriers of understanding.