Health literacy is a significant issue for Australia. Digital health literacy – the ability to seek, find, understand, and appraise health information from electronic sources and apply the knowledge gained to addressing or solving a health problem – is at alarmingly low levels in Australia. It’s been said that almost 60% of Australians aged 15–74 have a relatively lower level on health literacy.
Why is this important? Because, low individual health literacy is associated with higher use of health services, low levels of knowledge among consumers and variable health outcomes. It has been estimated that people with low individual health literacy are between one-and-a-half and three times more likely to experience an adverse outcome. In an industry focussed on alleviating pain, restoring health and extending life – it’s all of our responsibility to improve literacy levels.
But how much is appropriate? Low health literacy in Australia will not be addressed if people cannot find the local, accurate and relevant information they need to make informed decisions with their healthcare professional – and ultimately, of course, decisions lie with the clinicians.
The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care separates health literacy into two parts:
- Individual health literacy – the skills, knowledge, motivation and capacity of a person to access, understand, appraise and apply information to make effective decisions about health and health care and take appropriate action.
- Health literacy environment – the infrastructure, policies, processes, materials, people and relationships that make up the health system and have an impact on the way that people access, understand, appraise and apply health-related information and services.[i]
As an industry we can responsibly help shape the health literacy environment. It’s been estimated that one in every 20 Google searches is health related. Two in five Australians have used internet searches to avoid seeing a doctor (80% among 10-34), and 84% of people go online first for health information.
However, despite the high propensity to consume information, there is information asymmetry between providers and consumers. The consequence is an impact on decision making and reduced ability to access appropriate healthcare. This especially true of conditions which have an unfair stigma, or a complicated diagnosis pathway.
In an ecosystem where it is expected that companies will communicate with their customers and make information available, are we doing enough within the healthcare industry to promote accurate and relevant therapy-centric, community conversations on health? The way we adopt local advertising regulation holds the key.
To empower health literacy, advertising regulation must be consistent with the way consumers access and consume information – and we must adapt responsibly to it. Responding to requests for information in public forums; engaging in public discussion; and, the provision of information to assist people make informed healthcare decisions are all part of a ‘brave new world’ to support consumers make informed decisions about their health. Ask yourself, are you doing enough to advance health literacy? How would you move this conversation forward – and let’s talk to improve health literacy for better patient outcomes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Liz Carnabuci is the Vice President of Medtronic Australasia and Vice President Diabetes for Medtronic APAC.