October is Health Literacy Month.
As a health tech company whose products are consumed by a diverse and global audience, Twill holds ourselves to a high standard when it comes to creating engaging experiences that can demonstrate positive outcomes around mental health and behavior change. Health equity is our North Star, and it can’t be achieved without also tackling health literacy, or the ability for people to find, understand, and use information and services that inform their health decisions and actions.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 9 out of 10 adults in the U.S. have difficulty using the everyday health information that’s routinely available in our health care facilities, media, and communities. Additionally, nearly 36 percent of adults in the U.S. have low health literacy, with disproportionate rates found among lower-income Americans eligible for Medicaid.
At Twill, we strive to be a leader when it comes to improving health literacy. Our digital solutions are designed to be engaging, but they also offer useful information and tools that can lead people to getting the care they need and deserve, sooner.
In the past, part of our health literacy efforts focused on creating content at a specific reading level. But in our work with state Medicaid agencies, we found every state has different guidelines, and their preferred reading level tools can be wildly inconsistent. In recent years, we chose to embrace plain language over specific reading levels, which means we strive to create content that can be understood easily by a wide audience. When plain language is combined with the six principles below, content stands a far better chance of improving health literacy and equity.
Health Literacy Tenet #1: Make It Digestible
When we created a program on the Twill Therapeutics app to help Elevance Medicaid members across the perinatal journey, one of the key topics was taking charge of one’s own healthcare during pregnancy. We focused on short, bite-sized activities to help people feel a sense of achievement more frequently. Editors and writers also applied best practices from plain language, which made a meaningful difference in the readability of the activities. And we always kept the goal front-and-center, whether it was advocating for one’s needs at an appointment or recognizing red-flag symptoms that might warrant a call to the doctor.
Health Literacy Tenet #2: Remember That Many People Are Visual Learners
In my early days at the company, Twill was primarily focused on general well-being. Although we provide B2B platform services for activation, navigation, and engagement to health plans, employers, and pharma, our D2C roots and expertise continue to bring value to our clients today. The year we launched our app Happify, one of our single largest traffic days was the result of our "Science Behind a Happy Relationship" infographic being posted on Lifehacker and quickly going viral—it garnered over 2 million views in a matter of days before being reposted on Reddit and a number of news sites. Breathing new life into dry statistics and curating studies from research papers into intriguing visuals, gave us a winning format that we continue to use to this day to deliver psychoeducation across a variety of topics, from sleep to anxiety.
Health Literacy Tenet #3: When in Doubt, Define
When attending doctor’s appointments, people are faced with a slew of medical terms said quickly, and often without thorough explanation. The problem is, many people are simply nodding along. Last year, a survey of 2000 Americans found that approximately half of respondents with a health care provider reported being scared to ask their doctor questions about their conditions or symptoms. Furthermore, 7 in 10 were concerned they wouldn’t be able to understand the terminology used by their doctors in response to their questions. This is where the intimacy of a digital platform can foster access to desired information in a relatable way. On Twill Care, we’ve created a set of definition cards to explain the many tests, conditions, and acronyms patients may hear over the course of their pregnancy. They’re reviewed by board-certified OBGYNs and can be saved for easy access on the app and site.
Health Literacy Tenet #4: Keep the “Why” in Mind When Getting Personal with Precision Care
At Twill, we aim to deliver the right information and self-care tools to people when they need it most. We also triage and connect people with actionable resources when higher levels of care are needed. We have tailored content to help people understand the services that are available to them, and our AI-powered precision care engine helps point people to the right care partner at the right moment in time. For example, a pregnant member may be prompted to schedule a doctor’s visit, but we view it as critical to tell them why and educate them on the importance of seeing a provider during a certain stage of their pregnancy. Our recommendation engine also steers people to the right content for them—if a member has shared their due date at signup, we can deliver appropriate week-by-week pregnancy content and tips based on their personal pregnancy timeline.
Health Literacy Tenet #5: Culturally Tailored Content Is Key
Twill’s products are used by people all over the world, and ever since we began localizing our content in 2017 to meet the needs of our growing global client base, we’ve been intentional about collaborating with psychologists, clinicians, translators, and content creators who are native speakers of the 9 non-English languages we offer on Twill Therapeutics and Happify. Some well-being interventions that seem like no-brainers in the US need modifications to ensure they are culturally relevant for users in other countries. Within the US, we’ve also created content to support various communities including AAPI, Black, and Hispanic/Latinx over the years, always collaborating with experts and creators from those communities who have a firsthand perspective of the unique challenges they face.
Health Literacy Tenet #6: Don’t Forget to Measure
So, how do we know if our content is meeting the mark? When rolling out new programs and features, we conduct surveys with segmented groups of users who fit the profile of our target audience to understand if our content is comprehensible and engaging. We’ve also invited users to test our products before launch—for example, when we first embarked on a teen program on Happify, we invited real teens to review and provide feedback on the activities before release. And when it comes to global languages, we hire native speakers to review the localized content for readability and cultural appropriateness. In all these cases, we consider and incorporate feedback, and we continue to listen to our users long after the content goes live.
As the health tech industry continues to evolve, we’ll have increasingly sophisticated tools at our fingertips, from the latest GPT to new sensor and data integration capabilities. But it’s on us as content creators, marketers, and product developers to ensure that the output can be easily understood if we truly want to make an impact on the health and well-being of a wide and diverse audience. If your aim is health equity, you must keep health literacy and plain language as a top priority.
About the Author
Tiffany Sun, Chief Content Officer oversees global content across Twill's product suite: Twill Therapeutics, Twill Care, and Happify. She leads the team responsible for the creation of cutting-edge, A.I.-driven conversational content, editorial, video, meditation & audio, immersive games, interactive activities, and clinical tools that drive behavior change across 10 languages.