COUCH Health Communications

Breaking the jargon cycle: The benefits of health literacy considerations

27/03/2019 10:17 am

There is no shortage of information developed in healthcare communications that’s intended to help health seekers understand their treatment and medication options. Unfortunately, health literacy statistics among patient groups strongly indicate these materials often miss the mark.

People are still confused, uncertain and overwhelmed when it comes to making important decisions regarding their treatment options. This process is further complicated by inaccessible information that relies on medical terms that mean nothing to them, in other words – jargon.

The jargon cycle

Have you ever looked up an unfamiliar word in a dictionary, only to find you also need to look up the words in the definition before you can understand the meaning of the original word? Sounds confusing, but this is what it can feel like when specialised knowledge is presented from an academic perspective. It leads to a lack of understanding and hesitancy in decision-making for the health seeker.

Every industry has its own jargon. But especially in healthcare, specialised language can be overwhelming to the average person for three reasons:

  • Most people don’t have an in-depth knowledge of human biology, so even if a treatment or condition is described succinctly, it may not help those outside the medical profession.
  • The people who develop support materials for health seekers often come from a scientific background. To them, this language is second nature, blinding them to how far removed their understanding and speak is from those outside the industry.
  • Reading and understanding medical information often takes above-average reading and numeracy skills. Research in this area reveals that over 40% of the adult population don’t have the reading skills needed to understand written health information.

Misunderstandings and lost health opportunities

Information materials such as leaflets, brochures, apps and websites are created with the best of intentions, and help many people understand and manage complex conditions, deal with side effects, change damaging lifestyle habits and make intelligent health choices. But there are also many more who could be helped if health literacy was developed from health seekers’ perspectives.

Ideally, support materials should guide health seekers to perform everyday actions that help them manage and understand their illness. This information comes in many forms, such as:

  • discussions with doctors
  • leaflets inside medication packages
  • clinical research studies they may be eligible to participate in
  • information on how to use medical tools
  • medication dosages and timings

All of this information can easily overload people if created without the health seeker in mind, making it almost impossible for them access to information that’s presented at a level they can understand. In complex or life-threatening conditions, this can prove detrimental to their health. Jargon-filled or complex materials can also lead to misunderstanding and low take-up of screening or other preventative services.

Designing support materials with health literacy in mind

Using tools with a researched-backed, proven ability to cut through jargon, can help pharma to produce materials that are accessible to people with low health literacy. We often speak of ‘patient-centricity’ within an organisation, and it all starts with literacy from the health seeker’s perspective.

Done correctly, people become more engaged, more willing and able to change behaviours and become more open to clinical research studies as they approach all of these things from a better-informed point of view.

When we make it an organisational value to produce clear evidenced-based communication in all treatment and support materials, literacy improves, and health seekers benefit. There are huge opportunities for brands to reach out to health seekers, helping them make informed and confident decisions, and it all starts with a developing material that have health literacy in mind.

About the author

COUCH is a new breed of health communications agency that, due to a very personal experience, has at its core a mission to improve the lives of everyone. And so we are motivated by the profound understanding that, collectively, we need to do better. We are human to work with because we focus on using our skills and expertise for the common good.

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