“How much should I exercise?” “Do I need a flu shot this year?” These are examples of questions the general public often has about their health. In order to provide the answers in a way that makes sense, information needs to be presented in a way that’s easy to digest. This, in a nutshell, is why health literacy is so important when it comes to health-related marketing efforts.
Why Health Literacy is Important
According to a National Assessment of Adult Literacy Study, 9 out of 10 adults lack the basic skills required to manage and prevent disease. It’s a problem that’s especially prevalent among older adults, minorities, and individuals with limited education and a lower income. Increasing health literacy is important because a lack of comprehension can affect behaviors and have a negative impact on health. Insufficient health literacy may result in:
• Misunderstanding of instructions on prescription drug bottles
• Lack of reaction to health-related alerts about things like seasonal flu viruses or regional outbreaks of certain conditions
• Failure to take appropriate precautions with daily activities or medication usage
Simpler is Better
The role of health marketers is to remove the barriers to comprehension. One way to do this is by keeping information that’s presented on websites, on blogs, on social media pages, and even in text messages sent to patients as simple and direct as possible. The purpose of health-related content isn’t just to get more people to schedule appointments, it’s also to educate so patients know why it’s important to come in for their yearly physical, avoid fatty foods, and do a proper warm-up before going for a morning jog. Keeping things simple also means making an effort to:
• Minimize the use of stats to avoid overwhelming readers
• Avoid medical lingo not likely to be understood by the intended audience
• Focus on how content is presented (e.g., short paragraphs, descriptive headers, bullet points to present important points)
Health literacy can be increased by incorporating techniques from marketing in other industries. With retail marketing, for instance, there’s an emphasis on presenting content that’s relatable by telling relevant stories that emphasis points. While health marketing, by nature, is more structured this doesn’t mean information presented has to be dry and uninspiring. Healthcare professionals can effectively get the right message across by:
• Knowing their audience in greater detail to get away from a one-size-fits-all approach to marketing
• Presenting information in more accessible formats such as infographics, story-based content presenting real problems experienced by real patients, and short, sharable videos
• Encouraging interaction with quick facts, interactive chats, gentle reminders, helpful suggestions, patient-specific emails (e.g., newsletters with the latest news about diabetes management sent to diabetic patients), and even fun games when appropriate
The purpose of health literacy in marketing is to present information in a way that’s understandable, compelling, and motivating. As comprehension increases, so does the understanding of the importance of preventative care and why it matters. What this could ultimately mean for patients is fewer health-related emergencies, a reduction in healthcare expenses, and a better quality of life.