Actionable Data: A Redesign Leading to Healthy Behavior

Many of us are avid followers of TED talks and the visionaries who present their innovative perspectives. Now, TED has spun off a subset of topics focused on health care and calls it TEDMED. One notable TEDMED talk features Thomas Goetz, who looks at medical data reporting formats, making a bold case for redesigning them in a way that turns stats into insights for patients and physicians alike.  

Goetz is the executive editor of Wired Magazine and author of "The Decision Tree: Taking Control of Your Health in the New Era of Personalized Medicine." He talks about the role of reporting data and how this data can be one of the most effective drivers of positive behavior change affecting health.

It has long been understood that education is the key to preventing and even reversing many of the health issues facing Americans today. But why are health literacy and clear communication/comprehension so important? Patients need to take a more active role in their own care. At the same time, they have less access to their doctors, yet more data, options, and decisions to sort through.

Studies show that effective communication with patients, including clear, timely presentation of data and feedback, has a beneficial effect on wellness and medical care outcomes. These benefits include lower rates of anxiety, pain, and psychological distress, and higher rates of compliance and symptom resolution.

In our own investigations, we’ve seen some sobering statistics. According to an Institute of Medicine (IOM)  has noted that nearly half of all adult Americans—more than 90 million—have some difficulty understanding and acting upon health care information, with 36% unable to understand patient education handouts or follow written instructions for taking their medication.

The University of Connecticut’s Low Health Literacy: Implications for National Health Policy Report identified health literacy as a major source of economic inefficiency in the U.S. health care system. The policy stated that: “An initial approximation places the cost of low health literacy to the U.S. economy in the range of $106 billion to $238 billion annually.”

Goetz, among many other health care experts, feels strongly that there is huge potential to improve patients' understanding of their own medical information. As the nation grapples with health care cost issues, a strategic re-design of the communication of medical information can be a simple place to start, and may make a dramatic difference in wellness.