June 26, 2023

Elevating health literacy: A win-win for consumers and life sciences companies


Kim Gonzalez, BSN, RN

Vice President, Nurse Navigator team

Life sciences companies occupy a unique position at the intersection of scientific innovation, consumer health, and market dynamics. As providers of revolutionary medical technologies, diagnostic tools, and therapeutic approaches, they carry an untapped potential: the opportunity to elevate the health literacy of consumers. By doing so, they can empower individuals to make informed health decisions, which ultimately leads to better outcomes for consumers, and for the companies themselves.

Health literacy today

True health literacy goes beyond the basic ability to read and understand information. It encompasses a person's capacity to acquire, comprehend, and utilize health-related knowledge to make informed decisions about their well-being. It's about understanding one's body, the role of lifestyle factors in health, the importance of preventative care, and the impact of potential treatments or interventions.
However, even when the definition of “health literacy” is limited to the ability to read and understand health information, rates are alarmingly low; a study from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that only 12% of adults had proficient health literacy. Such a gap in understanding can lead to failure to seek care, under-diagnosis, low adherence, misunderstandings, and misuse of medical products and services.

Only 12% of adults have proficient health literacy. (The Department of Health and Human Services)

Why life sciences companies are uniquely positioned to help

With their deep scientific knowledge and resources, life sciences companies are uniquely positioned to bridge this health literacy gap. Their expertise and access to up-to-date, scientifically accurate health information make them powerful potential advocates for health literacy.

By making health literacy a core part of their marketing and outreach strategies, life sciences companies can educate consumers about their health in a precise, easy-to-understand way. This can include information about diseases, treatments, preventative measures, and how to effectively access and use medical products and resources.

Investment in health literacy can also drive positive business outcomes. An informed consumer is more likely to recognize the value of health-focused products and services, and may show more loyalty towards companies that help them better understand their health needs. Informed patients are also more likely to have productive, meaningful interactions with their providers, which increases the likelihood that they will end up on the best course of treatment for their particular need. This in turn supports adherence, product efficacy, and ultimately health outcomes, while also promoting brand loyalty from both the patient and the healthcare provider. When it is well executed, health literacy investments can prove a strategic way of increasing market share while also contributing to societal good.

5 ways life sciences companies can take action

There are five key ways that life sciences companies can use their resources to promote health literacy.

1. Simplify communication

Medical jargon can confuse even the most well-read consumers. Companies need to simplify their language, avoiding technical terms wherever possible. Utilizing visual aids, metaphors, and storytelling can also make complex concepts more digestible.

2. Leverage digital platforms

With the proliferation of digital technology, companies have an unprecedented opportunity to reach consumers directly, and across multiple channels. Interactive websites, mobile apps, educational videos, and webinars can be effective tools for imparting health knowledge. Plus, the use of these digital platforms gives companies the opportunity to record data and outcomes related to health literacy, so they can set benchmarks, measure changes, and understand what works and what doesn’t so they can continue to improve over time.

3. Adopt a patient-centric approach

Tailoring information to meet individual needs can increase engagement and comprehension. Providing relevant information based on a person's age, gender, health status, and cultural background can make that information more relatable and understandable.

4. Embrace empathetic engagement.

Being patient-centric is about more than just tailoring information to an individual’s needs — it’s also about delivering that information in an empathetic and caring manner. By making sure they are delivering not just the right information, but the right information in the right way, life sciences companies can make it easier to understand and consume information that drives improved health literacy.

5. Incubate partnerships and collaborations.

Collaborating with healthcare professionals, patient groups, and educational institutions can amplify the reach and impact of health literacy initiatives. Life sciences companies can use their resources and reach to bring these groups together to promote health literacy.

Benefits and impact of elevated health literacy on consumers

Increased health literacy benefits both consumers and life sciences companies. From a consumer's perspective, improved health literacy empowers them to actively participate in their healthcare. According to the Center for Health Care Strategies, "Individuals with low health literacy experience greater health care use and costs compared to those with proficient health literacy. Through all its impacts — medical errors, increased illness and disability, loss of wages, and compromised public health — low health literacy is estimated to cost the U.S. economy up to $236 billion every year."

Individuals with low health literacy experience greater health care use and costs compared to those with proficient health literacy. Through all its impacts — medical errors, increased illness and disability, loss of wages, and compromised public health — low health literacy is estimated to cost the U.S. economy up to $236 billion every year. (The Center for Health Care Strategies)

The bottom line

By empowering consumers with the knowledge to make informed health decisions, life sciences companies can contribute to healthier societies while simultaneously strengthening their market position. The intersection of public health literacy improvement and strategic business growth paints a promising picture, making the case for these health literacy initiatives an inevitable strategy for forward-thinking life sciences companies.