Healthcare that all patients can understand

Limited health literacy leads to an estimated loss of about 10,000 healthy life years per year and at least €300 million in additional healthcare costs. A total of 4 million Dutch people aged 18 and older have limited health literacy. This is problematic because it is associated with a higher risk of health problems, higher healthcare utilization, patients not carrying out their treatment as agreed with their practitioners or incorrect use of medication. In collaboration with the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, Ecorys identified this problem and investigated ways in which the central government can contribute to strengthening the approach to limited health literacy.

Health literacy includes all the skills needed to find, understand and apply information about health, wellness, illness and (social) support. As healthcare becomes more complex, higher demands are placed on health skills. Health literacy is relevant because it is seen as key indicators of health and socioeconomic health disparities.

Multiple parties are engaged in strengthening health literacy, including knowledge organizations, industry associations, and healthcare agencies. Various programs, activities and tools are trying to improve citizens’ health literacy. Despite the intensive efforts of all parties, improvements are possible in this approach. For example, citizens are sometimes insufficiently aware of available methods and tools, and of central government policy on this topic. In addition, there is a lack of clarity among caregivers about the effectiveness of the tools.

The central government can make an effective and efficient contribution to strengthening the approach through several policy measures. First, by continuing and strengthening current measures, and second, by addressing bottlenecks. Adressing the bottlenecks can be done by encouraging the training of health care providers. Also, the government can push for administrative agreements to lower health literacy requirements and push for financial compensation of health care institutions. Finally, further research is important. This can provide more insight into the specific problems of subgroups with limited health literacy, as well as the effects on health and care demand, and the effectiveness of instruments.

Read our full report here.

29 September 2023

2 minute read

Key Experts

Daniek Korver