Health literacy: small changes, big difference

Cuttsy+Cuttsy | 26 November 2020

This year, the importance of health literacy is more topical than ever due to COVID-19 and the confusion that surrounds it. The global pandemic has increased the need for patients to understand health-related information so that they can adapt quickly to changing rules and regulations. 

“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Information intended to educate people about COVID-19 and how to avoid transmission is all around us. Globally, we are relying on health literacy more than ever. 

And yet this comes at a time when poor health literacy is a considerable public health problem. A 2015 study reported that nearly half of adults in Europe consider themselves to have limited health literacy.

So, what can we do to create a positive impact on how we communicate information to patients today? 

The Cuttsy+Cuttsy way

Health information is inherently complex. We must communicate simply yet accurately, ensuring that information is presented in a way that everybody can understand. And importantly, this must be applied across the whole continuum of care, from prevention to diagnosis and treatment.  

This is what we pride ourselves on and what we excel at. So, what’s our secret? 

Our approach to patient-friendly materials 

There are many ways in which we approach the creation of materials. We ensure that materials are patient- and people-friendly, as well as empowering, rich in detail and easy to digest. Here are just a few of our methods:

  • We always start with an imaginary walk in different patients’ shoes. We think about factors that can impact the way they might interpret the information: age, gender, condition, cultural and social background. We also consider the emotional perspective that patients and their carers will have
  • It is paramount that we set out the purpose and the structure of the piece that we are developing. It helps readers to know what information they’ll be getting, how to find it, and what they should do with it 
  • The use of plain language might sound obvious, but it can often be missed. We employ the rules of writing in short sentences, using abstract nouns and communicating with an active voice. And we always write in second person
  • Calls-to-action are always clear and direct. For example, talk to your doctor is a clear signpost for further information 
  • Where we can, we always use simple icons, visuals aids or diagrams to break up the content into bite-sized chunks
  • You will always find a glossary and FAQ section, as medical terms still need to be used, and it is important that patients have a resource to go to in order to understand these terms
  • We will always consider whether a non-written channel may be a good supplementary resource. For example, videos or podcasts are great means to communicate information in a different format and could benefit those who may have impaired hearing, vision or dexterity

And a few of the things that we always avoid doing:

  • Assume a level of knowledge is already there 
  • Refer to the reader directly as a patient
  • Use unnecessary jargon and acronyms
  • Provide unnecessary information
  • Use subjective language 
  • Be afraid of white space. Sometimes, less is more
  • Rely on subjective words such as uncommon or rare when communicating risk. We always try to put this into context with simple statistics
  • Use percentages. Instead, we use simple numbers such as 1 in 100


Clearly, it’s more important than ever to make sure that healthcare information is written to an accessible level.  And whilst society has a much larger job to do in terms of enhancing health literacy levels amongst the world’s population, we can all play our part. We must do all we can to empower people to take control of their health via information, knowledge and understanding. 

If you are looking to add power, simplicity and empathy to your patient-focussed campaigns, why not give us a call. We would love you to pick our brains. Drop us a line at



  1. Sørensen K, et al. Eur J Pub Health 2015; 6: 1053-1058