How-To Tips

Health Literacy

Health Literacy & Health Equity

Mar 1, 2021

Health literacy is about communicating health information in ways that patients and the public can understand. It also is about doing so in ways that your audience can relate to and will accept. In other words, health literacy is about equity not just information.

I recently interviewed Janet Ohene-Frempong, MS for a Health Literacy Out Loud (HLOL) podcast on this very topic. I’ve known Janet for many years and always value her perspective. Here are some lessons Janet shared on our podcast, “Health Literacy and Health Equity (HLOL #203).”

  • Appreciate how health literacy and health equity intertwine. As Janet explained, health literacy is about “communicating health messages in ways that give everyone—individuals, families, and communities–the same chance to stay alive and live as well as possible. It’s about equitable access to care and equitable treatment once you get in.”
  • Consider a person’s lived experiences. Janet and I share a long-time commitment to health literacy. We are the same age and with comparable professional backgrounds. Yet we also have differences. A notable one is that Janet is a Black woman and I am White. These lived experiences frame our views in deep and profound ways. We must be mindful of this as we communicate about health.
  • Learn about those you communicate with. As Janet explains, this includes not only their level of basic literacy and science literacy but also situational realities such as housing, transportation, income, and access to food. Take into account not only their race but also factors such as religion and views about sexuality. “Be open to otherness and other people’s humanity,” recommends Janet.
  • Develop materials with those representing your intended audience. From start to final draft, ask those representing your audience for feedback about your concepts, tone, wording, and graphics. “Keep in mind what they tell you and craft messages accordingly,” says Janet. “You do that because you care.”