November 23, 2021
Health Literacy: Ireland's Hidden Problem?

28% of Irish People Have ‘Limited’ Health Literacy. What is health literacy, who is it impacting and what can your workplace do to help?

Here in Healthy Place to Work Ireland, we are striving to help organisations to create sustainably healthy and high performing cultures. A key element of any health and wellbeing strategy is that it is accessible to all people in an organisation, and new research around health literacy gives everyone a reason to reflect on what they currently offer.

According to preliminary results from the World Health Organisation (WHO) Action Network on Measuring Population and Organisational Health Literacy (M-POHL) survey 28% of people in Ireland have “limited” health literacy and struggle to find and evaluate health information. The same survey found that one in five people in Ireland find it difficult to judge whether they need a second opinion from another doctor on their health condition.

What is Health Literacy?

Health literacy is defined as having “the ability to make sound health decisions in the context of everyday life – at home, in the community, at the workplace, in the healthcare system, the market place and the political arena”.

Who is this impacting?

Sometimes, people who do not experience literacy difficulties in other areas of life, can struggle to understand things in healthcare settings – partly due to the medical vocabulary but also due to feelings of emotional or physical vulnerability in the situation. In particular, 18- to 35-year-olds, people with poor social supports and those with financial difficulties or in poor health, were among those with lower than average levels of general health literacy.

Interestingly, this is something that Laya Healthcare had identified a number of years ago and built support for. ‘We take the time to research the needs and wants of our members, which in turn prompted us to develop our Healthcare Concierge Benefit’ explains Noreen Quinlan, Medical Practice Manager. ‘Laya Healthcare Concierge is delivered by a dedicated team of experienced nurses to guide our Members every step of the way when navigating Ireland’s complex healthcare system.’

The breadth of support on offer gives an indication as to the range of need that exists for people. The guidance ranges from help with major lifecycle stages, support with long term illness, to advice when preparing to go into hospital for a procedure, and what to expect when leaving too.

What can your organisation do?

Below you will find four simple steps that any organisation can do to support all of their people.

1. Go back to the basics:

You may know what is available to your people, but are they up to speed? Routinely providing information on what is available and how it applies to them can help your people best use their benefits. Be aware of your language too. For example, if you want to generate interest and excitement in a new offering, focus on the benefit for the individual rather than a description of the provider.

2. Communicate information about benefits year round:

Organisations tend to provide helpful information about navigating employee benefits during the hiring and induction process, but for many the communication stops there. Resources need to be accessible year round as people are using their benefits. Provide educational tips and resources so people have accurate information readily available.

3. Give your people a place to go to learn more:

People with low healthcare literacy need help getting started. Give your people a safe way to find information and get their questions answered. Creating psychologically safe options is especially important to ensure people feel comfortable getting help with questions.

We can learn from Laya Healthcare’s approach again here. ‘We’ve made it simple. Any health-related query our Members have, they can pick up the phone and call our healthcare Concierge team directly for answers and advice,’ describes Quinlan. ‘Based on internationally-proven models of concierge healthcare and informed by the needs of our members, Laya Healthcare Concierge gives our Members more confidence and comfort at every step of their personal healthcare journey.’

4. Remember technology is a tool to help reach your people, but not an entire communication strategy:

Having a microsite or communication app can be a great way to reach employees about the health options they have available to them. However, it is important to make sure the technology you use is part of a cohesive employee experience. If an employee is already struggling to use their benefits, having to dig through multiple, disparate company resources to find information does not make it easier.

Get in contact with us today for more information on how we can help you create a health and wellbeing strategy that supports all of your people.

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