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  • Writer's pictureShaina Tennant

Creating accessible health content isn’t easy – but it’s worth it

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

If you’re trying to engage patients, here are the big challenges and even bigger rewards that come with being health literacy aware.

Dog dressed as a nurse holding a red stethoscope in its mouth. He appears to be smiling.

4 in 10 people have a hard time understanding health information, says NHS research. That’s even more people than have blue eyes (around 10% of the population, FYI).

This monster of a problem is often called health literacy. And if you don’t address it, you get significant drop-off when these people try – and struggle – to engage with your content.

Isn’t this just about being patient-friendly?

As a healthcare marketer, you already know that it matters how you write, speak and communicate as a brand. Aka, tone of voice – and lots of brands have patient friendliness on their list.

But, as buzzwordy as ‘patient-friendly’ is, it fails to express that writing accessibly is an art, which, sadly, isn’t as simple as being warm and relatable to our readers.

It takes more than tone to engage patients across the spectrum of health literacy. But, by the end of this article, we promise you’ll be as excited by the challenge as we are.

Okay, so what’s it all about then?

When it comes to health literacy, we’re talking about people’s ability to access, understand, and use health information to make informed choices. There are at least two things you need to know to understand it.

  1. Low health literacy isn’t always about educational skills. University graduates struggle to understand health information too – almost 1 in 3, found one study.

  2. Health literacy barriers include personal factors. But it’s also about the emotional context and – the part we have the most control over – the content itself.

Accessible health content is a threefold challenge

Maybe we’re biased (since it’s our wheelhouse), but we think writing accessible health content is a unique and fascinating challenge. Let’s break it down.

Challenge 1 – Audience profiling

In healthcare, the audience you want to engage has little in common. Unlike many other markets, you're not talking to them about recreation, career, or self-development interests, which are way easier to profile.

While you might be able to narrow your audience down by broad demographics like age, you’ll still be speaking to a huge variety of people, who can be affected by several health literacy barriers.

These include reading skills, language fluency, cultural backgrounds, learning disabilities and neurodivergence like autism, ADHD, and dyslexia.

Challenge 2 – Complex content

The content itself doesn’t make things easy. It’s healthcare. We deal with complex topics and lots of technical terms. We need to walk the fine line between making sense to everyday readers and being medically accurate.

This is where digital health content often struggles to compete against popular sites like and WebMD. They’re experts in speaking to people like humans and giving them easy-to-read content. Google rewards it. (Luckily, though, we’re experts too).

Challenge 3 – Loaded context

The final challenge is the context of our messaging. We work with emotional content, read by people who are stressed or upset in the face of a health challenge. It only makes it harder for them to take in new information.

Plus, it’s not like we’re asking them to sign up for Netflix or try a new nail polish. We’re delivering radical messages – encouraging people to change their lifestyle, engage in medical procedures, and, ultimately, trust us with their well-being.

These three challenges underline why writing clear, clean and compelling health content isn't for the faint-hearted. Now’s a good time to dig into why it’s worth it.

If it’s so hard to write accessibly, why bother?

When health content is accessed, understood and used as intended, it has the power to…

• Improve patient engagement, experiences and outcomes

• Increase reach and reputation

• Meet campaign and content KPIs

Digital content might be our realm of expertise at Wallace, but we know that the real impact is offline. Done right, it supports people with the knowledge and confidence to manage their health and engage meaningfully in their treatment.

We call this activation. It’s the difference between people being passive recipients in their care and being motivated to self-manage, initiate treatments, work with their healthcare providers and navigate healthcare systems.

After all, it’s patients who drive the need for their treatment and the outcomes too. Research shows that activated patients have better care-specific results and overall well-being. And well-written communications are a crucial part of this patient activation.

If that’s not a good reason to make accessible content, then what is?

In short – accessible health content is a win-win

Creating health literacy aware content serves us all. Being accessible improves experiences, engagement and outcomes. It increases your reach and reputation.

And finally, it helps you deliver what you set out to do with your services or treatments – which is to help more people live well with their conditions.


Want to learn how?

At Wallace, our mission is to do good. We believe every piece of accessible content can go a long way in improving patient experiences for better health.

That’s why we’re creating a guide to share our secrets, including tips to help you put health literacy into action and get your health content working harder.

Sign up for exclusive early access.


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