Last week, I attended an American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) conference in Denver, Colorado. As an exhibitor, I discussed materials needs with hundreds of physicians from all around the country. Although my various conversations were spread out over a number of different health conditions, there was one commonality in every exchange I had. The need for patient education materials to speak to those with low health literacy was extremely apparent.
It’s so important for patients be able to understand risks and benefits to preventative measures and treatments for health conditions. On top of this, think about the benefits to cognitively knowing where to look for trustworthy health information, interpreting test results, and being able to fully comprehend materials like fact sheets, brochures, or wallet cards when it comes to your personal health.
As social marketers, we need to be cognizant of our audiences and their abilities to understand and conceptualize health information. Think about this—according to the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, reading abilities are typically three to five grade levels below the last year of school completed. Therefore, people with a high school diploma typically read at a seventh or eighth grade reading level.
In undertaking materials development for public health initiatives, we must always try to be clear, concise, straight-forward, using visual cues with text to strengthen comprehension levels. Materials should always be composed in an active voice and whenever a technical term is used, it should be explained. Words and sentences should generally be short and simple. It is up to our country’s healthcare and public health professionals to ensure that patients understand the information they receive well enough to apply it!