|Health Literacy: Finding the Right Words|
|Many of you know by now that I love strange words. I'm the kind of person who actually browses the dictionary. I love the sounds, and the newly discovered meanings: Paludal, for example, and flexuous.*|
Two of my favorites are myocardial and infarction. What a great pair! Infarction is, happily, from the Latin root meaning "to stuff." But I'm sorry to say I've only recently learned that a myocardial infarction is a heart attack--and I have a couple of graduate degrees.
How many people, hearing their physician say "You've had a mild myocardial infarction" will understand what has happened? (Maybe they'll just be grateful it was mild, whatever it was.)
October was National Health Literacy Month.
In the past 10 years there's been a huge upsurge in research and understanding of how improved health literacy can improve medical care and reduce cost.
Only 12 percent of adults have proficient health literacy, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. In other words, nearly 9 out of 10 adults may lack the skills needed to manage their health and prevent disease.
See the DHHS's Quick Guide to Health Literacy for a good overview. There's even a new interactive software tool, Health Literacy Innovations, that helps rework health care copy for clarity and appropriate reading level.
More than writing
Health literacy is much, much more than clear writing and simplicity of medical terms. It involves the ability of clinicians to talk in a way that patients can understand. And patients themselves need to have a basic knowledge of how the body works, and numeracy skills to calculate measurements of chronic disease such as blood sugar levels.
As writers, how does health literacy affect our work?
We already know what the DHHS Quick Guide says: plain language, knowing your audience, and breaking up text with white space and headers, are essential tools for clear communication.
So in some ways, we are already in a position to support the clinicians and insurers we work with in providing health literate content. And the next time (or the first time) we are asked to produce a web page on paresthesia, we can look it up in the dictionary and insist, instead, on numbness or tingling on the skin.
See you in November!
*By the way, paludal: of or relating to marshes or fens; flexuous: lithe or fluid in action or movement
|Jane Sherwin is a professional writer specializing in marketing materials for health care and wellness. In addition to in-depth articles, brochures, newsletters and web content, she also provides e-mail marketing services. Visit WordDriveCommunications.com for more information.|
"The new guidebook has been getting rave reviews, both from new users and from the agency and funders. We value your patience and your very good questions about content. The way you worked with us meant that we had to make only minimal revisions. At the same time your outside perspective helped us capture important information for users and present it in a clear and jargon-free manner."
--Kami Norland, Community Specialist, National Rural Health Resource Center, Duluth, MN.
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