Health literacy in practice: deciphering a hospital letter
One of our team received a letter from the hospital which made her feel anxious and confused. We knew she couldn’t be the only one who felt like this when confronted with this type of letter. Therefore, we decided to take on the challenge to redesign a doctor’s letter so that it could successfully do two very different jobs at the same time; updating clinical colleagues on a patient’s progress, while communicating important health information directly to the patient in an accessible manner.
Waiting for results from a medical test can be a worrying time. You usually go through a whole rollercoaster of emotions. And when the letter arrives from the hospital, it is usually full of medical terminology and scientific jargon, which is difficult to understand. This is because you are not the intended audience, your GP is, and reading this letter can cause even more anxiety and confusion. So, we wanted to take this fear away and provide information in a way that could be understood but most importantly acted on.
Simple visualisation helped put the results in context and explained what the results actually meant for the patient. Alongside accompanying graphics, these also made the document more engaging for the reader.
When we are unwell, our ability to take in information diminishes and our reading age reduces quite considerably. Using plain English and removing scientific and medical jargon helps with potential low health literacy levels. Breaking content down into more manageable chunks and using icons creates a clear visual flow.
Careful implementation of colour throughout the letter, made sure colours associated with warning or caution were avoided so as to not cause undue panic or anxiety.
Concluding with a clear call to action meant the letter helpfully signposted the next steps, removing the ambiguity of the original version.
This project really got us thinking about how many materials intended for patients are actually written and designed with these factors in mind. Other complex medical documents, such as informed consent forms for clinical trials, dosing schedules or instructions for medical devices are not designed with accessibility and health literacy as driving principles. This knowledge continues to fuel our mission to bring healthcare communication to life by putting audiences at the heart of our thinking.