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April 3, 2018

Health literacy design principles from a designer’s point of view (Introduction)

Health literacy can be one of those terms that you either understand in its true form or make the wrong assumptions about its meaning.

Health literacy design principles evolved since the 1990’s by defining, redefining, and quantifying the functional literacy needs of a patient population, specifically focused on the literacy level of the audience. Through research and time-tested methodologies, it became apparent that a low literacy level can have an effect on an audience’s understanding of their health and their healthcare behaviors. This low literacy level has been proven to be a barrier that prevents someone from better serving their ability of “taking their healthcare under their own control”. This literacy challenge can have a profound effect on how well one understands their own unique healthcare situation and when communicating with healthcare professionals (HCPs), community entities, family, and peers.

health literacy design

Health literacy is dependent on several individual and systemic factors, such as:

  • Layperson and professional knowledge of health topics
  • Communication skills of laypersons and healthcare professionals
  • Culture and social environments
  • Demands of the healthcare and public health systems the audience are exposed to
  • Demands of the health-related situation/context in which it is presented

Health literacy affects people’s ability to:

  • Engage in “proactive” self-care and chronic-disease management over an extended period of time
  • Navigate the healthcare system, including filling out forms, locating providers, understanding services, and communicating with insurance carriers and representatives
  • Share personal information, such as health history with healthcare providers at all levels
  • Understand the concept of probability and risk related to their own unique healthcare challenge

So how does all of this relate to design?

Whether print or digital, the understanding principles of health literacy play a key role in determining what a designer needs to understand. The scope of health literacy extends from the conceptual stage, writing, design implementation, testing if applicable and final dissemination into the community. Plain language is the methodology of constructing written content so that a defined audience can “Find”, “Understand”, and “Use” the information to better serve their own healthcare needs.

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 defines plain language consisting of writing that is clear, concise, well-organized and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience.

So as you can see, health literacy has a set of guidelines and a foundation of principles that a project needs to consider in order to ensure the best communication tool for the audience. In subsequent articles to follow, I will explain in more depth some of the “visual” considerations that play a key role in health literacy. Bottom line, if your next communication tool can potentially be affected by a segment of your audience that has a low literacy level, health literacy must play a role.

Gilbert Velazquez (Health Literacy Designer)

health literacy designerAllow me to bring my medical and healthcare communication design experience to your next healthcare initiatives. I look forward to taking part as a health literacy designer to better serve “your” audience by helping them reach their goals to understand their own healthcare needs.

It is all about individuals taking control of their healthcare over time, and a health literacy designer can help.

Call me at 732.996.6328 to learn more about what GV CERV Communications health literacy design and development services can do for your next communication challenge.

732.996.6328 (Mobile/text)
732.918.1061 (Office)

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