Health Data: How useful is it if you can’t understand it?

health data -- is it useful?

Are you ‘health literate’? Studies show people with the best health know how to use written, verbal and numerical health data to manage their health. According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, only 12% of people can do this well, while the remaining 88% have trouble.

Before joining One Drop, I spent a decade studying how people with diabetes understand and act on health information, becoming an international expert on the topic with many folks I’ve published with. Even though we’ve accumulated lots of evidence on the problem and its consequences, health data continues to be inaccessible and difficult to understand and act on for many people.

Both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines and Institute of Medicine’s Roundtable on Health Literacy and New Technologies white paper list ways to make health information understandable and actionable. The latter includes lists actions app developers should take to learn about their users, organize and simplify content, display it clearly, write actionable content, display content clearly, organize and simplify content, evaluate and revise content to reach and retain the most people, and engage users.

Some of the most important things to do are:

  • Engage and users in the design process (co-design)
  • Put the most important information first.
  • Use plain language.
  • Limit text volume and using images to facilitate learning.
  • Use user-friendly interfaces with large fonts and bold colors.
  • Integrate with other apps.
  • Recruit beta testers with all types of education and learning levels.
  • Routinely test the understanding and usability of app content.

One Drop has done many of these things already and will continue to do more now that I’m on the team. We’re all about communicating health information as clearly as possible. If people are able to understand and act on health data, they can apply it to lead healthier and happier lives. Join us!

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Chandra Y. Osborn PhD MPH
Chandra Y. Osborn PhD MPH

Pre-diabetes free since 2011, Dr. Osborn's a mother, wife, and expert in diabetes health communication, disparities, self-care, and leveraging health tech to improve people's lives. She's been understanding, predicting, and promoting diabetes self-care since 2003, first as a scientist and now as VP of health and behavioral informatics at One Drop.