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MN Health Industry Aims to Streamline, Cut Jargon

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More than 40 Minnesota health organizations are pledging to make the health-care system easier to navigate. (iStockphoto)
More than 40 Minnesota health organizations are pledging to make the health-care system easier to navigate. (iStockphoto)
March 4, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Most Americans have a hard time understanding even basic health information, according to the U.S. Department of Education. To help with that, more than 40 Minnesota health groups have put together a new health literacy plan. The idea is to help people make better health decisions, including when to see their doctor or what medical coverage to choose.

Justin Bell, government relations director for the American Heart Association, said that even simply using everyday language in documents could have long-term benefits by cutting down on confusion.

"What's a premium? What's a deductible? What's the difference between co-insurance and co-pays? Things like that are really targeted things that seem very simple," Bell said, "but they're a big cause for health illiteracy."

Other ideas in the Minnesota Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy include giving patients easier access to their health records and streamlining partnerships between different health fields.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the state has serious health disparities for certain communities. For example, African-American and Native American babies die at twice the rate of white babies. The department also reported that these groups are hit hardest by economic inequalities, which are strong predictors of health. While the health literacy plan won't solve all of those problems, Bell said, it can help close some of the gaps.

"Low health literacy directly leads to big health disparity gaps that we see among race, ethnicity and language lines," he said. "Trying to figure out ways that we can systematically approach improving health literacy for everyone really improves patient outcomes and the health of the overall population."

All of the groups involved, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, have said they will be using at least two of the six recommendations laid out in the plan.

The health literacy plan is online at healthliteracymn.org.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - MN