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A conversation with Signify Health’s Dr. Ashok Roy on Health Literacy Month and improving patient outcomes

By Signify Health Team on 10/11/23 10:39 AM

October is Health Literacy Month to help establish and celebrate the importance of making health information easy for patients to understand and to help make the healthcare system easier to navigate. 

Recently,  Ashok Roy, MD, MPH, MBA Chief Medical Officer, Value-based Care at Signify Health, released a comprehensive, four-part white paper that addresses the importance and relevance of health literacy and its correlation to improved healthcare. In ‘Addressing Health Literacy to Improve Patient Care Outcomes,’ Dr. Roy demonstrates the relationship between the social determinants of health and how these factors can result in health disparities. Dr. Roy also presents opportunities in value-based healthcare that employs population health methodologies that can help providers provide support for their patients. 

We recently talked with Dr. Roy to learn more about health literacy.

Why is the topic of health literacy so crucial to the healthcare system?

Health literacy means an individual has the ability to find, understand, and use information to make informed decisions about his or her health. Providers within a healthcare system need to invest to ensure that patients understand their health conditions, the best ways to manage those conditions, and recognize the signs and symptoms that require additional evaluation. Otherwise, patients may not be as compliant with treatment plans or be nervous about their chronic diseases' symptoms, leading to unnecessary and preventable ED visits and inpatient hospitalizations.  

Recently, Healthy People 2023 updated their definition of health literacy to include two components: personal health literacy and organizational health literacy. This acknowledges that organizations have a responsibility to address health literacy. Why is this important?

Organizations need to share responsibility in addressing health literacy. These organizations should provide information on health-related issues that are easy to understand and easily accessible. This information should be available in different mediums and languages that the surrounding community speaks. Clinical staff also need to be trained to talk in an understandable way and take the time to make treatment plan notes for the patients. Finally, organizations need to follow up after provider visits to ensure that patients understand their visit's outcome and answer any outstanding questions they have. 

What are some indicators that a patient has low health literacy?

Sometimes, indicators of low health literacy can be hard to identify. However, low health literacy should be considered in patients who need to be more compliant with treatment plans and medications and who frequently visit the ED or urgent care for situations that could be handled in the office setting. Another indicator is whether the patient’s caretaker or the literature that the patient is carrying is not in English. In these situations, even though patients may speak English, they may prefer to receive their medical information in a language that is more comfortable to them. 

Your white paper addresses the high cost of low health literacy. How will improving rates of health literacy help to contain healthcare costs? 

By addressing health literacy, patients will have a better understanding of their health. They will be better prepared to understand the available resources and the importance of following treatment plans. These patients will also know when to seek help for follow-up procedures and exacerbations before they become too serious. All these actions help reduce unnecessary ED/urgent care visits and resulting inpatient hospitalizations.  

And this has the potential to have an impact on patient care outcomes?

Yes. Investing in patients' understanding can lead to healthier patients and the added benefit of decreasing utilization and total medical spending. 

What can healthcare organizations do to support their providers and healthcare teams who are working to improve their patients' understanding of healthcare instructions? 

Healthcare organizations can support providers and healthcare teams by providing educational information for patients that can be placed in clinics and taken home. The organization can also create or purchase short explanatory videos that patients can watch in the lobby. Organizations should also provide these educational materials in languages spoken in their community and expand these resources beyond English. Additionally, organizations can support and provide training sessions with staff to be trained on identifying and addressing low health literacy with patients. 

National Health Literacy Month runs through October. By building a greater awareness of the importance of overcoming barriers and challenges, there is potential to create a more equitable world for patients to receive healthcare in ways they understand to ultimately improve compliance and outcomes. 

To download Dr. Roy’s white paper, ‘Addressing Health Literacy to Improve Patient Care Outcomes,’ click here. To learn more about Signify Health, visit our website