Digital tools help patient health literacy

With full backing from several government organizations, health information technology has emerged as one of the fastest growing subsections of the industry over the last two decades. Electronic health record systems may be the most visible example of these, though it has drawn its fair share of criticism from physicians who claim that the functionality and user experience of the software does not mesh with their daily workflows.

Doctors experience this disconnect between technology and reality every day, but there are just as many moments when the digital medium offers healthcare marketing strategies the opportunity to reach people in new ways. Just as EHRs were a disruptive force in hospitals and primary care settings upon their immediate introduction, electronic patient health tools can be some of the most effective ways of increasing engagement and literacy - the building blocks of any successful treatment program in a value-based care economy.

Patients helping themselves
Marketers tend to think of brand-to-consumer advertising as a kind of hunt. As the holder of information, it is the marketing professional's job to make sure it makes its way into the hands - or mind - of the right person. When dealing directly with physicians, this is fairly simple. However, advertisers do not have the luxury of making appointments with patients, nor is it likely to help their cause.

However, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at University College in London and published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, patients may be just as likely to be searching for information themselves. The researchers gathered a representative sample of 4,365 individuals and tested their respective health literacy levels as a baseline score. The researchers also surveyed all participants on their Internet usage rates, behaviors and usual search terms.

The researchers found that health literacy rates decreased with age, primarily due to a lack of cognitive function and acuity. However, they also noted that consistent Internet use protected against severe cognitive decline in 36 percent of cases.

Identify and raise low health literacy
Low health literacy levels among patient populations threaten the health of the transition to value-based care as much as anything else today. For example, medication nonadherence can sabotage preventive care and land patients back in hospitals they had just been discharged from, raising costs in a cycle of financial abuse. Even patients who are unaware of their own conditions and how best to manage them before the moment a medical crisis arises may be in need to greater health literacy outreach efforts before it is too late.

In fact, Medical Marketing & Media reported that about 38 percent of the average brand's volume of sales is lost to medication nonadherence. In particular, MM&M noted that many internal factors can conspire in patients minds to lead them off their prescriptions, and advertisers must break through noise like fear of side effects and anxiety of costs for success.

Digital tools offer a natural and engaging way to connect with patients who may otherwise be resistant to traditional techniques. If Internet use can slow the degradation cognitive decline has on health literacy levels, then a video-based tool developed by researchers at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University and described in a study published in the journal of the American Cancer Society may represent the new age of direct-to-consumer health literacy education.

The researchers explained that a prior 2013 study of cancer patients under their care showed that significant portions did not understand basic terminology related to their conditions. In total, only 15 percent know what the word "incontinence" meant and less than 33 percent could define "urinary function" or "bowel habits."

In response to these dramatically poor demonstrations of health literacy levels, the researchers developed a video testing tool to educate patients through digital, narrated animations of 26 different terms and phrases related to their conditions. Overall, 56 men from low income background completed the video tool program. After being tested on the same terms as the first study, performance was significantly improved. For example, 50 percent of participants could define "incontinence," as opposed to only 14 percent previously. Extrapolated over larger patient populations, improvement to health literacy levels to even a fraction of a degree could be enough to have measurable effects on patient conditions. 

However, not just any digital educational solutions will be able to break through to patients and customers alike. As more marketers join the electronic health literacy bandwagon, consumers will likely grow tired of tried-and-true advertising methods. It follows that only a cutting edge marketing agency will have the skills to excel in the current industry while also foreseeing and getting ahead of changes in the future. Find the marketing partner that works for you to achieve long-term and continuous success with patient education.