two people looking at a computerWhile plain language communications and health literacy are closely linked, health literacy has a broader application. A person who’s “health literate” is able to:

  • Understand basic health information and services
  • Make the right health care decisions based on the information given
  • Comfortably navigate the health care system

In recent years, there have been small improvements in the numbers. But a 2017 survey by UnitedHealthcare found that for insurers, health literacy still has a long way to go. According to the survey, only 9%t of the U.S. population understood the top four basic health insurance terms: premium, deductible, out-of-pocket-maximum and co-insurance.1

Six tips for writing about health insurance

If you’re writing about health insurance, here are a few ways to communicate more clearly with consumers.

  1. Use search engine optimization. SEO will help you learn what words and phrases people use to search for a health insurance topic. Plan to include those words and phrases in future messaging.
  2. Focus on “need to know and do.” When writing for health plan members and consumers, focus on their “need to know” and “need to do.” Avoid adding too many details that don’t get the members to the main point: understanding what actions they need to take.
  3. Use pictures when possible. Visuals with the message can help patients with recall. Those who have low literacy or are visual learners tend to rely more on pictures.
  4. Stay on top of user feedback. Here’s an example of how feedback can help: You may learn that members think the term “covered” means their plan pays 100 percent. But what you mean by “covered” is that the member’s plan includes a certain benefit. Using a digital platform source that gathers customer-initiated feedback can reveal health literacy missteps like those.
  5. Test if you can. If you can’t do more formal (read, costly) user tests, have several people who aren’t familiar with the topic read your message.
  6. Fill in literacy gaps. Because of space constraints, you can’t always define every insurance term. But what you can do is provide resources such as URLs for readers to go to for more information. Or you can send out follow-up materials that repeat the steps given in your previous communications.

Poor health literacy can affect even those who are well-educated. This is often the case with health insurance jargon, which isn’t commonly used in everyday conversation. When it comes to health literacy, everyone benefits from clear communication.

What do you think about insurance and health literacy? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

1 Source: “UnitedHealthcare Consumer Sentiment Survey.” October 2017.