Promoting Equity Through Health Literacy

By Laura Wilson, Fingerpaint Marketing, Strategy & Patient Education

World Health Day, held annually on April 7, provides an opportunity to highlight pressing public health issues. The date holds specific significance, as it marks the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization in 1948. With a host of problems plaguing our planet and well-being, many of which are exacerbated by socioeconomic disparities, it is no surprise that a key component of this year’s theme is equity.

The ability to make informed health decisions by groups that have been marginalized is often hindered by poor access and ineffective communication. These obstacles can have tragic results, including delays in diagnosis, inadequate treatments, and preventable deaths. With so much at stake, what can your organization do to ensure you are at the forefront of creating positive change?

Take Responsibility

Recognize that it is both unrealistic and unfair to expect diverse patient populations and their caregivers to receive and process information in the same fashion. Rather than adhering to the outdated notion that all patients should conform to a uniform method of communication, understand that the onus lies on your organization to reach your audience effectively. Prioritize a culture of organizational accountability and responsibility.

Expand Your Reach

It is an unfortunate truth that organizations often rely on the most outspoken segments of their audience to collect information and develop materials. While it may seem obvious, it is important to thoughtfully tailor your focus groups, research, and educational tools to reflect everyone within your target demographics. Including those who may be less vocal or engaged will give you a broader perspective on potential challenges and solutions.

With diverse input, you can expand your marketing efforts to broaden your reach. For instance, it might make sense to design multiple versions of your website or brochures with various languages or complexity levels in mind. Giving people the option to select the one that works best for them can empower patients and boost engagement.

Review and Revise

From clinical trial details to disease awareness, education, or medication instructions, use a critical eye to examine your existing communications. All aspects—written, verbal, and numerical—should be carefully reviewed to determine if there are gaps in your messaging.

Here are some questions to ask yourself: Does your audience have access to the Internet? Are they able to easily navigate web-based content? Are you giving them the tools to understand, learn more, and ask questions in the appropriate format? What other factors present impediments to improving health and well-being? This kind of introspective analysis should occur at all stages of planning and execution.

Use Empathetic Language

While the methods with which we engage and inform are of the utmost importance, the words we choose are also significant. Keep in mind that opinions may differ when it comes to preferred terminology, so draw on research and patient guidance to adopt language that shows you value inclusivity and respect. Develop a comprehensive framework for utilizing inclusive language that sensitively addresses gender, race, age, disabilities, impairments, and more. Establish your own organizational principles and mandates to guarantee you extend empathy and understanding to everyone.

Health literacy, defined as “the degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others” by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s Healthy People 2030 Plan, is paramount to breaking down barriers.

By using these four measures to prioritize literacy, biopharma companies can empower patients, improve outcomes, and promote equity.