How-To Tips

Health Literacy

Health Literacy Along the Continuum of Care

Aug 1, 2023

Health literacy matters along the continuum of care. This includes wellness, access, illness, and self-care. Wherever we work and whatever we do, it is important to consider health literacy at all phases along the continuum of care. Here are some suggestions about ways to help.

  • Wellness. This is about doing what’s needed for people to stay healthy, prevent disease, and decide about routine screenings such as mammograms, prostate exams, and colonoscopies. From a health literacy perspective, our job often is to make a persuasive case about the value of healthy behaviors, like walking upstairs rather than taking an elevator. Our job also includes helping people understand the difference between routine screening exams (looking for signs of problems when asymptomatic) versus diagnostic tests (looking for specific markers based on medical findings).
  • Access. This not only includes navigating physical facilities but also completing forms and making payments needed to access healthcare services. One way to help navigation is with consistent wording, such as always calling the place to buy lunch a “cafeteria,” “café,” or “coffee shop.” When it comes to forms and other paperwork, our job includes clearly defining key terms (such as “deductibles”) and explaining necessary costs like insurance premiums and co-pays.
  • Illness. In this phase, health literacy goes beyond writing about diagnoses to offering non-reading options like pictures, videos, and support groups. Health literacy is also about creating understandable informed consent forms and designing patient-friendly decision tools. Also pay attention to medical jargon and other odd ways we use words. For instance, a “positive” test result may not always indicate good news.
  • Self-care. Patients, perhaps with their family members or other caregivers, assume a lot of responsibility these days for treating an acute illness, managing chronic conditions, and intervening appropriately in emergency situations. One way to help patients do so correctly is by teaching them how to keep track of their health histories be it with a notebook, spreadsheet, or online tool.

Helen often talks health literacy and the continuum of care in her most popular keynote presentation, “What Health Literacy Is, Why It Matters, Ways You Can Help.” Want Helen to talk about this topic at your organization or event, too? Email Helen today to make that happen,

Information in this month’s How-To Tip is adapted from the chapter “Continuum of Care” in Helen Osborne’s book, Health Literacy from A to Z: Practical Ways to Communicate Your Health Message, Third Edition.