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October marks is Health Literacy month. This time of year, multiple organizations band together to raise awareness of health literacy deficits and provide resources to reconcile those gaps. What is healthy literacy and why is it absolutely critical to the well-being of individuals, communities and organizations? Health literacy is be defined as a person’s capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and resources needed to make appropriate health decisions.
Why is this important for your workplace? A lack of health literacy is strongly correlated with the prevalence of chronic disease in the U.S. Chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes are largely attributed to lifestyle choices largely influenced by an individual’s level of health literacy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention these ailments directly cost U.S. employers $36.4 billion per year in lost productivity.
The choices your team members make each day regarding the foods they eat, seeing a doctor, smoking, exercising or addressing an ongoing injury compile into the overall well-being (or lack thereof) of your workforce. While willpower is often cited as a common crux for health management, many of these poor choices are actually a direct result of poor health literacy. It is not uncommon for individuals to misinterpret food label information, to not understand the root cause of their chronic pain or to need support managing prescription medications.
In fact, one of the problems perpetuating poor health literacy in U.S. based adults is that we tend to overestimate our own health literacy and that of our peers. Despite a lifelong need to properly care for health, the Institute of Medicine estimates that 90 million Americans have low health literacy. Factors that increase the predisposition to low health literacy include having a lower socioeconomic background, lower levels of education, lack of English proficiency and being elderly. However, even the most well-educated, gainfully employed adult can still harbor health literacy deficits. A study conducted by the National Patient Safety Foundation determined that compared to their health literate peers, adults with low health literacy experience: 4 times higher health care costs, 6% more hospital visits and 2 day-longer hospital stays.
The good news is, there is plenty that your organization can do to help employees and their families improve health literacy. Utilize your workplace wellness program as a platform to spread health education. Share health information in company newsletters, office signage and social media pages. When using print as an avenue to share information remember to keep the messaging simple and never make assumptions about your audience’s knowledge of the subject matter. The Center for Health Care Strategies recommends writing at a level that can be understood by a 5th grader. Additional tips for print communication include clearly organizing ideas and utilizing a simple design to support reading comprehension.
Oral communication is another great way to spread valuable health information to your business. Don’t have a dedicated onsite wellness professional? Consider bringing in qualified guest speakers to share their valuable knowledge and answer questions your team may have. Your company may consider hosting an annual health expo. This allows a number of local health and wellness providers to interact with your workforce. Tip: keep the focus on health education by bringing in providers with clinical backgrounds.
Are certain health problems showing up more and more often in your workforce? Consider sponsoring a multi-part clinic or motivational wellness challenge to provide the necessary education along with accountability, group support and incentive to make a change. Keys to successful oral communication of health information include: creating a safe and respectful environment for discussion, using speech that is easy to understand, making the conversation engaging and confirming understanding.
Additionally, you can help prepare your team for improved interactions with their healthcare providers or any guest speakers you recruit. Recommend that participants write down any questions about the topic that they think of beforehand. Suggest keeping a full list of all medications (prescription and over-the-counter) in a safe place that they can easily refer to. Encourage keeping copies of recent test results, healthcare provider recommendations or any other personal health record. It may also be beneficial for a family member or friend to accompany the healthcare recipient and help with communication or writing down information from the interaction.
Arming your workforce with health literacy sets employees up for improved quality of life, higher life expectancy, reduced medical costs and countless other benefits. Likewise, your organization can expect higher rates of productivity, reduced absenteeism, reduced healthcare related business expenses and improved employee retention rates.
SiteWell Solutions is here to help your team succeed, no matter how big or small your need is. We specialize in providing medically reviewed health information handouts, newsletter contributions, onsite and virtual health clinics and professional staffing for businesses seeking comprehensive ongoing employee wellness services.
SiteWell Solutions is committed to supporting business and organizations with health, wellness and injury prevention services. A healthy workforce is proven to be more engaged, productive and happier. It is our mission to deliver these outcomes to every organization we serve. Our services include onsite and virtual corporate wellness programs, industrial athlete training, injury prevention services, chronic disease management, employee resilience support services and much more. Contact email@example.com today to find out how we can optimize your organization.