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The MetRx Matters Blog

Health Literacy – are we really speaking the same language

It was health literacy week here in UK last week and it got me thinking as Pharma heads into its planning for 2022, are we really speaking the same language when it comes to content for patients?
July 15, 2021

It was health literacy week here in UK last week and it got me thinking as Pharma heads into its planning for 2022, are we really speaking the same language when it comes to content for patients? How can companies and services ensure they are speaking the same language as their patients.

It’s estimated that the average reading age in the US is 7/8th Grade, that means an average age of 12-14*. We also know that if people are unable to understand and interact with the information they receive around their condition, their outcomes can be worse. 

As we have seen in the last 18 months the ability for people with health conditions to access healthcare has been severely restricted.

It’s increasingly important for pharmaceutical companies to understand their patients experience of their medicines and speak to the challenges they face.

What is Health Literacy?

Health literacy is divided into 3 levels:

1. Functional

2. Interactive

3. Critical

Functional health literacy is the ability to read and write about health information. Someone who has functional health literacy can find the name of their prescription or pick the date out of an appointment slip.

Interactive health literacy is the capacity to ask questions and discuss health information. Even if someone can read the information, they may not know what questions to ask, or feel comfortable talking about sensitive topics. They may not trust their provider or understand when and who to ask when they do have questions.

Critical health literacy is the skill of analyzing health information. This is the most difficult level. Someone with critical health literacy can read multiple prescriptions and determine how they can or can’t be combined. They can take information from their provider and apply it to their life.

How Content Strategy Can Impact Health Literacy

Content strategists view the world holistically. When it comes to healthcare, this means we can make a big difference.

1. Functional: Write in plain language. Define complex health terms. Use images and videos. Help people understand what’s written. This is great for people trying to read discharge papers or doctor’s notes. It’s the area we have a huge impact when it comes to websites and apps.

2. Interactive: Content strategists aren’t in the waiting room or the doctor’s office. But most health decisions don’t happen there. They happen in the grocery store, at the gym, in the car, in a restaurant, or at home. When you work on a project that impacts someone’s health, think holistically. Can you suggest they speak to a doctor – and offer advice on how to bring it up? Or can you encourage them to connect this information to their health in general?

3. Critical: The hardest part is helping people connect the dots, and make their own health decisions. The best thing we can do is decrease the number of areas they need to do critical thinking. Why should it take critical thinking to understand how to take two prescriptions together? It shouldn’t. We can decrease this work from critical to functional.

How can we help:

PatientMetRx is a unique data platform that allows you to aggregate social intelligence into a trackable and quantifiable score. We deliver a Patient Confidence Score that allows you to understand how confident patients are in their medicines. We can help you understand the themes that sit behind these scores and how they could help you shape your content planning.


Center for Plain Language, (2017) ‘What is readability and why should content editors care about it?’ Available at:https://centerforplainlanguage.org/what-is-readability/#:~:text=Your%20audience’s%20reading%20age%20is%20lower%20than%20you%20think&text=U.S.%20illiteracy%20statistics%20from%20the,12%20to%2014%20years%20old) [Accessed 15 July 2021]

Marli, (2018) ‘Content Strategy for Health Literacy’ Available at: https://marli.us/content-strategy-health-literacy/ [Accessed 15 July 2021]

Image sourced from: https://marli.us/content-strategy-health-literacy/

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