Drs Rima E. Rudd, Senior Lecturer on Health Literacy, Education, and Policy, and Cynthia Baur recently co-authored “Health literacy and early insights during a pandemic” in the Journal of Communication in Healthcare.
Health communicators can draw some early lessons from the first five to six months of the worldwide experience with the Coronavirus Disease 2019. While it is critically important to apply known efficacious principles of communication strategies, we would do well to imbue our efforts with insights from health literacy studies. We know from national and international assessments that a significant proportion of adults in most industrialized nations have limited literacy and numeracy skills and face difficulty using commonly available materials to accomplish everyday tasks with accuracy and consistency. We must be certain to make information more accessible by being attentive to tone and voice, organization of information, vocabulary, numbers, data presentations – in our talks, writings, and postings. We need to apply rigor to the development of written, spoken, and displayed information and be certain to use available tools to develop, assess, pilot, and re-formulate health messages and materials – to help the public gain access to needed insights, developments, instructions, and actions. The health literacy lens supports a focus on the characteristics of health communications that facilitate or impede access to information, comprehension, and action. We know too that we must make critical information more widely available – considering that the most vulnerable amongst us may have limited literacy skills, have access to scarce resources, and face higher exposure. Health literacy insights can support strategies to broaden the reach of health information and contribute to efforts to mitigate the ravages of disparities.