UnitedHealthcare and Feinberg School of Medicine Launch New Plain-Language Initiative

  • Innovative research program aims to promote health literacy among older Americans, encourage consistent use of medications
MINNETONKA, Minn. — 

UnitedHealthcare, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and AARP Services, Inc., are working together on a new program to help older Americans take their medications as prescribed.

The program will include development of Web-based and mobile applications that will enable patients to manage their day-to-day, complex medication regimens safely and effectively.

The initial phase of the program will include research that will focus on the content of communications provided to UnitedHealthcare Medicare supplemental health insurance plan members and will apply health literacy “best practices” to these various materials and enhance the way patients organize, administer, track and refill their medications.

Health literacy – or one’s ability to access and use health information – is “a stronger predictor of a person’s health than age, income, employment status, educational level and race,” according to the American Medical Association.

People with lower health literacy tend to have greater challenges taking their medications as prescribed. According to a 2011 report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the consequences of not taking medications as prescribed can be seen in decreased medication safety, decreased quality of care and an increased cost of health care services.

“Our team is looking forward to this academia-industry partnership opportunity with UnitedHealthcare,” said Dr. Michael Wolf, associate professor of medicine and learning sciences, and associate division chief for General Internal Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine. “People, especially older Americans, are increasingly faced with complex medication regimens that can be very challenging to take properly and to sustain over time. This project will give us a chance to learn more about the problem and apply evidence-based strategies to help a large number of health care consumers tackle this very common behavior.”

“The failure of patients to take their medications as prescribed has huge quality and safety implications,” said Dr. Charlotte S. Yeh, chief medical officer, AARP Services, Inc., AARP’s wholly owned, taxable subsidiary. “Helping older adults take medications properly is absolutely essential.”

“Lower health literacy has been associated with poor health and a higher risk of death. UnitedHealthcare’s work with Northwestern University and AARP Services aims to make health language easier to understand, which we believe will enable people to live a healthier life,” said Steven Rush, director of UnitedHealthcare’s Health Literacy Innovations Program.

As the head of the Feinberg School of Medicine’s Health Literacy and Learning Program (HeLP), Wolf is a behavioral scientist and health services researcher with expertise in medication safety and chronic-disease management. He has received numerous national awards for his work in the field of health literacy and patient safety.

Last year, UnitedHealthcare received three ClearMark Awards from the Center for Plain Language for its consumer-friendly Medicare information materials. According to the Center for Plain Language, the ClearMark Awards honor the best in clear communication and plain language, celebrating documents and websites that succeed in communicating clearly.

UnitedHealth Group has a broad based commitment to improving health literacy. In addition to the use of plain language for Medicare beneficiaries, UnitedHealth Group participates in the Institute of Medicine Roundtable on Health Literacy and the Consumers Union Expert Roundtable on Measuring Health Insurance Literacy. United Health Foundation, a private, nonprofit foundation established by UnitedHealth Group, partnered with the National Education Association (NEA) Health Information Network to launch an online professional-development workshop for K-12 teachers designed to help them enhance their students’ abilities to make personally appropriate health and well-being decisions. The newly developed curriculum provides America’s teachers with an important tool to help increase students’ health literacy.

About the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University
Northwestern University and its Feinberg School of Medicine, specifically, has been a leading research institution addressing health literacy, health communication and the problem of medication non-adherence. Since 2005, Northwestern’s Health Literacy and Learning Program (HeLP) has led many national and international efforts to simplify health care and promote ‘patient-centered’ services. Dr. Stacy Cooper Bailey co-directs HeLP with Dr. Michael Wolf.

About AARP Services Inc. (ASI)
AARP Services, Inc., founded in 1999, is a wholly-owned taxable subsidiary of AARP. AARP Services manages the provider relationships for and performs quality control oversight of the wide range of products and services that carry the AARP name and are made available by independent providers as benefits to AARP’s millions of members. The provider offers currently span health products, financial products, travel and leisure products, and life event services. Specific products include Medicare supplemental insurance; credit cards, auto and home, mobile home and motorcycle insurance, life insurance and annuities; member discounts on rental cars, cruises, vacation packages and lodging; special offers on technology and gifts; pharmacy services; legal services; and long term care insurance. AARP Services also engages in new product development activities for AARP and provides certain consulting services to outside companies.

About UnitedHealthcare
UnitedHealthcare is dedicated to helping people nationwide live healthier lives by simplifying the health care experience, meeting consumer health and wellness needs, and sustaining trusted relationships with care providers. The company offers the full spectrum of health benefit programs for individuals, employers and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and contracts directly with more than 650,000 physicians and care professionals and 5,000 hospitals nationwide. UnitedHealthcare serves more than 38 million people and is one of the businesses of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), a diversified Fortune 50 health and well-being company. 

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UnitedHealthcare and Feinberg School of Medicine Launch New Plain-Language Initiative