7 Ways Texting Can Improve Health Literacy

Mobile,Patient Satisfaction

hipaa-secure-texting.pngHow well do patients understand your directions? How skilled are they at seeking out the right level of care at the right time? Individuals with low health literacy – the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions – struggle with issues like follow-up care and medication directions and have difficulty seeking out the appropriate level of care for illness and injuries. They are also less likely to access wellness care in the community, even when those resources are freely available. 

Health literacy depends upon a variety of factors ranging from the patient or caregiver’s ability to understand the written and spoken word to cultural and language differences. This is an issue that affects millions of people – according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, only 12% of adults have proficient health literacy. Said another way, nearly nine out of ten adults may lack the skills needed to manage their health and prevent disease. Low literacy has been linked to poor health outcomes such as higher rates of hospitalization and less frequent use of preventive services.

Because low health literacy impacts so many people and is a key driver of health care costs, it is an important topic that health care providers and the industry at-large must tackle. This is especially true as we make the shift from volume to value where the need to engage patients in their own care is greater than ever.

We discussed in our last blog post that how you communicate information is as important as what you communicate – opting for plain language and providing clear and easy to follow directions can help improve medication compliance and patient outcomes. Patients coping with a chronic condition or who are beginning a new drug or therapy regimen, for example, need to be given information in a clean and easy to understand format, without a lot of medical jargon. While lots of paperwork at discharge is unavoidable, communicating information in a variety of ways and being creative with how you stay in touch supports your ability to effectively reach those with low levels of health literacy and improve their compliance with care instructions.

According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 90% of adults own cell phones – a statistic that is fairly consistent regardless of ethnicity or age. 81% of this population send or receive text messaging and 63% use their cell phone to go online. These statistics indicate a clear opportunity to take advantage of mobile to effectively get medical and health related messages across, boosting the overall literacy of your patients and improving both compliance and outcomes.

7 Ways Texting Can Improve Health Literacy

Plain Language Matters

In the context of health literacy, plain language is communication that individuals can understand the first time they read or hear it. The very limitations that make texting possible – short, concise messages – means every word must count which lends itself to explaining topics and in understandable language – avoiding medical jargon - ensuring that the most important points come first and that the call to action is clear. Another advantage of texting is that the messages can be sent in the language that is most suitable to the audience – further enhancing the value of this communication channel.

Wellness and Preventive Care Prompts

Simple, one sentence prompts that alert patients to the need for routine self-care or preventive tests enables patients to play a role in their own health and well being. An automated SMS system can alert patients to the need to test blood pressure, blood sugar and even to do monthly breast self-exams. By following these prompts, patients are more engaged in their own care and are more likely to spot potential problems early.

Follow-up Care Education and Reminders

Patients recovering from surgery or discharged from the emergency room typically go home with a folder packed with information that covers topics from home care to a patient's financial responsibilities. Oftentimes it is difficult for patients to determine which pieces of information are most important. A daily text can prompt those who have left your facility to perform therapeutic exercises, return for follow up care or complete a full course of medication.

Easy Access to Medication Directions

Not all patients comply with medication directions, even if they have the actual medication in hand. Language difficulties, inability to understand or retain verbal directions and simple forgetfulness leads to a lack of compliance for many patients and caregivers. A simple alert can prompt patients to take or complete medication protocols as scheduled and improve compliance.

Care Access Education

People with levels of health literacy pay less for health care, because they understand where to go for care. If your patients are opting for the ER as a primary care physician, they have a lack of understanding about where to go for care. Running a text series that educates patients on where to go when they need help and alerts them to free and low cost options for well care and health screenings can help reduce crowds in your ER and lower costs. A simple advisory with the time, date and location of a flu shot clinic, BP screening or other low cost wellness initiatives can help those with low health literacy improve their knowledge and access the care you are offering.

Link to your Website or Portal

Sending a textual prompt with a link to your website or patient portal for the full story can reduce the need for patient attention; a glance at their phone provides a fast and easy way to access your follow-up care directions. Since more than half of all adults now use cell phones to access the web, a mobile friendly strategy is a must for follow-up care and compliance. A text with a link to the appropriate section of your site makes it easy for patients to find the information they need without having to remember where to look or your web address.

Improved "Connection"

Patients who feel a connection to your facility or providers are more likely to return. Texting can help you forge a connection and may even help some patients stay on track with medication and aftercare. A study of patients with eating disorders showed that most reported better outcomes and program compliance if they were able to text with providers. Texting removed some of the barriers to communication most often mentioned by eating disorder patients and allowed them to talk to someone or ask to help without having to show up in person. Therapists reported that patients who used texting to stay in touch felt better upon sending a text, even if it was not immediately answered. While not all patients have eating disorders, the ability to text concerns or questions can help improve patient understanding and allow them to feel heard - improved communication is at the heart of better health literacy.

The ability to communicate clearly and instantly offers many benefits to both patients and providers, and text messaging is a natural fit for those seeking to improve the health literacy of a population or group of patients. To learn more about how SMS and texting is revolutionizing the way providers and facilities interact with patients, follow our blog or contact us to learn more about what mobile communication can do for you.