A version of this article originally appeared at NucleusHealth.com.
Imagine this scenario: a Spanish-speaking patient reads the instructions for his new prescription medication after being discharged from the hospital. The directions tell him to “take once daily.” The patient takes eleven pills every day. Why? Because the Spanish word for eleven is “once” (pronounced ón-say). The patient is back at the hospital within days due to complications.
Preventable hospital admissions happen every day in real life. That’s why the Readmissions Reduction Program was established under the Affordable Care Act. Currently, the program monitors readmissions for five conditions: heart failure, heart attack, pneumonia, and more recently chronic lung problems and elective hip/knee replacements. Hospitals are penalized financially each year they fail to reduce the percentage of patients who return within 30 days of discharge for these conditions.
A poor understanding of health information, also known as low health literacy, is a contributing factor in hospital readmissions.
The Cost of Low Health Literacy
According to the American Medical Association, how well a person understands health information – both written and verbal – is a better indicator of health than age, income, employment status, education level, or race. 1
People with low health literacy are less likely to use preventive care and take medications correctly, and more likely to be hospitalized and have poor disease outcomes; and it’s costing our health care system. One estimate puts costs associated with preventable hospital readmissions due to low health literacy at $17 billion a year 2, while other researchers estimate the cost is as high as $106 to $238 billion a year. 3
Eradicating Low Health Literacy
3D animation has been an educational tool for health sciences students for some time now – from the CD-ROMs of the 1990s to today’s mobile apps. Many health care providers are now sharing medical animation with their patients.
“Today’s medical technology is extremely complex, and animation is a powerful way to help non-medical professionals grasp the intricacies of modern medical technology, as well as those of the human body itself,” said Ken Bearden, Director of Integrated Marketing Communications at Detroit Medical Center. DMC licenses patient education videos from Nucleus and combines them with their own videos for use on their website, YouTube channel, and Facebook page.
Gwinnett Medical Center, based in Metro-Atlanta, also licenses Nucleus animations to communicate discharge instructions to their patients. While hospitalized, patients watch an animation and then explain the concepts back to the provider. The patient leaves the hospital with both written instructions and a link so they can watch the animation again. This has been shown to increase patient adherence to recommendations and reduce readmissions.
Collateral Benefits of Improved Health Literacy
Many hospital marketing departments are finding that the benefits of medical animations don’t stop at improved health literacy.
Marketing videos containing animation frequently attract more viewers on social media than traditional videos featuring only patients, hospital staff, or procedures. The popularity of animation may be attributed to its unique form. Because animations show more in-depth detail of diseases, conditions, and treatments than traditional videos, patients consider them as more educational. Additionally, the increasing popularity of animated movies produced by Pixar, Disney, and DreamWorks has lead viewers to associate animation with higher production values and entertainment. These perceptions positively impact a patient’s attitude towards hospitals that use animation.
“By using Nucleus content, we’re reinforcing our new patient-friendly approach,” said Alyssa Young, former Senior Web Producer of Marketing & Public Affairs at Lehigh Valley Health Network. “We want our website and social media outreach to be a helpful, trustworthy resource for our patients. It helps strengthen our reputation as the region’s expert in health care. The goal is that building our brand this way will encourage more people to choose us when they need us.”
Interested in learning more?
1: Glassman, P. (2013). Health literacy. National Network of Libraries of Medicine.
2: Jencks, S.F., Williams, M.V., & Coleman, E.A. (2009). Rehospitalizations among patients in the Medicare fee-for-service program. New England Journal of Medicine. 360(14):1418-1428
3: Vernon, J., Trujillo, A., Rosenbaum, S., & DeBuono, B. (2007). Low Health Literacy: Implications for National Health Policy.