By Rachel Kurtzman
Your phone buzzes and you look down- it’s a text that your prescription is ready for pickup, a medication reminder, or a communication from your doctor. For most of us reading health messages like this isn’t an issue, but it is for millions of adults in the U.S. who have low literacy skills. Nearly 14% of U.S. adults have below basic literacy skills and 29% have basic literacy skills- about 92 million people.1 Low literacy is linked to many adverse health outcomes, including increased mortality and poor control of chronic health problems.2
Many mobile health applications rely on individuals being able to read and interpret health messages, and fail to consider those who cannot. Studies have found that most apps available through the app store rely on high literacy and numeracy skills.3 There are very few guidelines on how to develop apps that are more accessible for this population, but some recommendations include using larger font, more images, larger graphics, lowering the reading level, and having the option of text to voice responses.3
Our health care system is evolving and e-health has the potential to help more people engage with the tools necessary to manage their health, but not creating products that are accessible for individuals with a broad range of literacy levels risks widen disparities and leaving behind a vulnerable segment of our population.
- Eichner J, Dullabh P. Accessible Health Information Technology (Health IT) for Populations With Limited Literacy: A Guide for Developers and Purchasers of Health IT. (Prepared by the National Opinion Research Center for the National Resource Center for Health IT). AHRQ Publication No. 08-0010-EF. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. October 2007.
- Pignone, M.P., DeWalt, D.A. Literacy and Health Outcomes: Is Adherance the Missing Link? J Gen Intern Med. 2006 Aug; 21(8): 896-7.
- Chaudry, B.M., Connelly, K.H., Siek, K.A., Welch, J.L. Mobile interface design for low-literacy populations. IHI’12. January 28-30th, 2012. Miami Florida, USA. DOI: 1145/2110363.2110377