Tag Archives: health literacy

Wellness Programs Lack Health Literacy

The more informed your employees are about health and healthcare, the wiser and more confident they’ll be when it comes to making the right lifestyle and healthcare choices.

Health Literacy

Health literacy improves health outcomes, while controlling health spending. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) defines it as:

“the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.”

What does the IOM mean by “basic health information”? It’s the knowledge necessary to understand the impacts and risks of different health-related decisions or behaviors. For example, basic health information would include knowing why you should complete the full dosage of antibiotics prescribed by a doctor.

However, an even more informed healthcare consumer would know, or at least ask, whether antibiotics are even necessary for the ailment in question.

The Low Health Literacy Rate

Health literacy is very low in the U.S. – “proficiency” is pegged at 12% by the Journal of the American Medical Association, well below the level of other nations where citizens have access to technology.

According to JAMA, having a “proficient” level of health literacy can mean making consistently good healthcare choices and understanding one’s insurance options. Yet, mere proficiency should not be the goal. At Quizzify, where employees are already “proficient,” we continue to learn something every day. For instance, today we learned that pregnant women should avoid consuming black licorice because it contains a chemical that can harm unborn babies. (In this situation, it’s the high-quality candy-store licorice that is the culprit. The version you buy at newsstands is only licorice-flavored.)

See also: New Wellness Plans: for Employee Finances  

Low Health Literacy Affects Cost

A study conducted by the Veterans Administration (VA) on the literacy-cost correlation revealed that veterans with low health literacy spend roughly 50% more on disease management and medical care than veterans with proficient knowledge, other things equal. Think about what that means for your own healthcare budget, and how much you would save by making even a small dent in that.

Low Health-Literacy Affects Employee Wellness Outcomes

Health literacy training has far better outcomes than any other employee wellness program. Screenings, for example, do not prevent the utilization of medical care. In fact, they may actually encourage it.

In the Health Enhancement Research Organization Outcomes Guidebook, researchers found that only 7-8% of hospitalizations are “potentially preventable” by wellness programs. They also note that many non-hospital expenses increase as a result of these programs. Meanwhile health literacy applies to the vast majority of decisions and behaviors that affect health.

In contrast, health literacy applies to the vast majority of decisions and behaviors that affect health. Typically, literate consumers spend less. When literate consumers spend more, it is usually an educated decision and may avoid a bad outcome.

Implementing Health Literacy Into the Workplace

The Uphill Battle Toward Behavior Change:

People who are smokers or overweight already realize they should make changes…and yet, for many complex and (in the case of obesity) poorly understood biochemical reasons, can’t. Encouraging smokers to quit or obese employees to lose weight is a totally uphill, probably unwinnable task for an employer, even as a lot of money gets spent trying to move the needle. It is nearly impossible to make significant dents in these two (and related) health issues through behavior change. Furthermore, employers are not especially well-positioned to bring about these changes. Trying too hard can even feel intrusive and uncomfortable for employees.

Knowledge as a Solution:

By contrast, in health literacy, most of the effort is in imparting the knowledge, not changing the behavior.

Examples:

  • Every smoker knows he or she is supposed to quit already for health reasons but doesn’t. However, a few smokers may be motivated to quit when they learn the amount of money they are really spending on cigarettes. ($300,000-plus over a lifetime.)
  • People know that radiation is unhealthy, whereas very few patients receiving CT scans realize they will be absorbing as much as 1000 times the radiation of an X-ray. Simply obtaining the knowledge can change behavior while saving money.

See also: Ethics of Workplace Wellness Industry  

Achieving a higher level of health literacy is not difficult– it just takes some learning.

3 Tips for Improving Healthcare Literacy

Today, innovative cost-containment solutions are helping employers “curb” the increasing cost of healthcare.  However, these solutions are only as good as the education tied to them.  A solution without effective education is useless and can even be costly.

Employee education has been a sticking point in the employee benefits world.  Many employers haven’t done a good job educating employees and have thus missed the boat on containing costs. According to a 2003 assessment (I know, old!) by the U.S. Department of Education, only 12% of U.S. adults have a proficient level of healthcare literacy. That is scary.

The days of educating the workforce about what they have, how much it costs and how to sign up are long gone. Stop repeating the same message year after year. The focus of your education has to be around improving the healthcare literacy of your workforce.

The good news is that there are consultants around the country creating some amazing messages. Folks like Jim Millaway, Gary Becker and Al Lewis are innovating the way benefit education is provided, helping employers reduce the cost of health insurance.

With that, let’s look at three employee education tips that can help you contain costs.

See Also: On Air Traffic Control and Health Costs

  1. Effective Education Is a Year-long Process

If your education strategy consists of nothing more than the annual open enrollment meeting, we need to talk and please keep reading! By the time your employees walk out of the meeting, they will forget 90% of what they heard; especially how to use a new cost-containment tool effectively. To ensure the new solution is a success, you have to keep the message in front of your employees all year long.

  1. Make Sure Your Message Helps You Accomplish Your Goal

Remember, your goal is to “curb” or even reduce the cost of your health insurance, so strategic education has to be a part of your long-term plan. Do not rely on the communication provided by carriers and vendors, as they are often too vague and provide information most of your employees already know (e.g. your smokers already know they should quit as their doctor has been telling them for years). To achieve your goal, you need to make sure your education aligns with the objective, improving health literacy. Focus on the kind of education that will help your employees help your medical plan save money. Strategic education is the wave of the future. Innovative solutions like Quizzify are giving employees the opportunity to become stewards of their own healthcare journey, helping both their checkbook and the bottom line of their employer.

  1. Your Message Has to Be Clear and To-the-Point

Trying to find the right avenue for educating the workforce is not easy. However, using newsletters and brochures to communicate your new cost-containment solution will not work because your employees will not read them. One way to get your message across effectively is through video. Videos only require employees to hit “play” and are short and to-the-point, and can be customized to convey the message you want.

Employees like the videos because little time and effort is wasted in watching and the employer is able to craft the message (with help) to best meet its objective. A video campaign can be a very effective way of improving the health literacy of your workforce through short, focused messages.

Crafting the right educational message is hard work and requires time and effort. But if it is done well, you will not only be happy about your new cost-containment solution, you will create a highly educated and empowered workforce that will have a positive impact on your bottom line.