According to a recent study by VisibleThread that analyzed the ability of health insurers to communicate clearly, a whopping 86.6% of Medicare communications aren’t understood by Medicare members. This is problematic as more than half of Medicare members have basic or below-basic health literacy levels.
The study notes that communicating in plain language is one of the most important ways health plans can build trust with members—trust that ultimately builds satisfaction and loyalty. But instead of using simple language, the majority of plans use complex language and long sentences, which can obscure the message being communicated.
In the analysis of 30 U.S. health insurers, the results showed that:
- Only 6 out of 30 have an acceptable level of word density
- 56.6% of insurers communicate in an academic tone
- Long sentences are at 2x the recommended level
- 66% of insurers produce content more difficult to read than Herman Melville’s Moby Dick
6 Essential Tips for Creating Accessible, Understandable Medicare Content
#1—Explain Complex Medical Terms in Plain Language
Some words like “mammogram” or “ophthalmologist” are medically necessary. The goal isn’t eliminating those terms—it’s educating members about them.
Avoid this: “Schedule an appointment with your ophthalmologist and attest to the visit when completed to receive your reward.”
And try this instead: “It’s time to schedule an appointment with your ophthalmologist (a special doctor for your eyes). Once you’ve completed this activity, let us know. Then we’ll send you the gift card of your choice.”
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#2—Use Design to Help Readability
Certain communications require more content. When you’re working with multiple paragraphs, use design elements like bullet points, numbered lists and colored text to help guide members through the information. Icons or graphic illustrations can also help support a message or convey an idea—or simply provide a visual “break” from a large amount of content.
#3—Make Sure Your Message is Channel-Appropriate
Not all messages are suitable for all channels. New member welcome communications, for example, that contain an introduction to the rewards program and information on how to join, should ideally be sent by traditional mail or email. A quick reminder to schedule an appointment, on the other hand, is great for a text message. Consider the complexity of your message when deciding how to deploy it.
#4—Avoid Clichés, Idioms, and Slang
When you’re trying to make your content more understandable, casual language can seem helpful. In reality, however, using phrases that are common in speech but not in formal writing can alienate members of your audience and lead to misinterpretation. It’s better to use language that’s simple, clear, and concise.
Another key reason to avoid clichés, idioms and slang is that the meaning seldom translates. A phrase like “put your best foot forward” means one thing in English, but lacks the same meaning in other languages, especially when it’s translated word for word.
#5—Don’t Just Tell Members What to do—Tell Them Why it Matters
The key to motivating people is telling them what’s in it for them. If your goal is getting members to close care gaps, for example, don’t just prompt them to schedule the appointment—explain why it’s important and the impact it can have on their health.
Avoid this: “It’s time to schedule your breast cancer screening. Call us to set up your appointment.”
And try this instead: “A breast cancer screening (also called a mammogram) could help find cancer early, when it may be easier to treat. This is the best test doctors use to find breast cancer. Schedule your appointment with your doctor today.”
#6—Don’t Rely too Heavily on Readability Tools
There are several online tools, such as Flesch Kincaid, that score your content’s readability by grade level. These tools can help confirm your content is at or below a targeted grade level, but they can’t ensure your message is clear. That’s why a skilled content creator who understands context and nuance is essential, and why readability tools should be part of the content review process, but not the final say.