Fostering health literacy

Members of Security Health Plan are likely some of the most informed patients in the nation.

security-health-plan-190x30The ACHP plan out of Marshfield, Wis., has a number of ongoing projects to help consumers obtain and understand critical medical information and services – in other words, to support patients’ ability to interpret the complex language of the health care industry. For its efforts, Security recently won the 2014 Wisconsin Literacy Achievement in Health Literacy award from state-wide nonprofit Wisconsin Literacy, Inc.

Health literacy is a significant part of Security’s programming around community benefits and preventive health. In December, the plan invested $134,000 in mini-grants to 17 nonprofit organizations focused on improving area citizens’ mental and physical well-being.

Among the grant recipients is Eau Claire Healthy Communities, which is using the funds to train members of the Hmong community in mental health issues and health care providers to better communicate with Hmong patients. Wisconsin Hmong, who represent the third-largest Hmong population in the U.S., have indicated language and low literacy are their biggest barriers to accessing health care.

Security has also joined two other health organizations for three projects dubbed the Northern Wisconsin Partnerships for Health Literacy. The partnership has distributed the easy-to-read reference book “What to Do When Your Child Gets Sick” – available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese – to hundreds of local parents through day care programs and schools. Families are also invited to attend workshops around the book. Sixty-two percent of participating parents said access to the book helped reduce the number of visits they took to the emergency room.

The health literacy alliance also targets seniors. The Ask Me for the Health of It  program enlists retired nurses to deliver impartial health information at senior centers and thrift stores.

Security Health keeps the patient at the center of care. On the plan’s Explain Exchange Facebook page, videos answer questions like “How much will my health insurance cost?” and “How does health care reform affect me?”

As more Americans gain access to health care, the hope is that they use it. The Institute of Medicine has recommended that every health organization have a health literacy arm (see its issue brief here). Security Health Plan takes that responsibility seriously – and in good humor.

– Sophie Schwadron