We live in the era of sound-bites and attention-deficit (and I speak for myself as well as for my fellow citizens). That’s a bad thing for our health. Two news stories illustrate the challenge of health literacy and health outcomes: for kids, and for older adults.

Parents and those who care for kids make lots of errors when giving medicines to children. As much as 50% of the time, parents and caregivers misdiagnose kids’ conditions. In Randomized Controlled Trial of a Pictogram-Based Intervention to Reduce Liquid Medication Dosing Errors and Improve Adherence Among Caregivers of Young Children, researchers found that issues of adherence and accurate dosing disproportionately affect parents from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

The study used simple language, English and Spanish pictogram medication instructions in an emergency department to test whether parents and caregivers could learn dosing accuracy. The pictogram’s information included medication names, indications, dosages, a log for tracking dosing administration, and other important elements. The key outcomes tracked were initial dosing accuracy and ongoing adherence.

The conclusion: plain-language, pictogram-based interventions are effective in decreasing errors and improving adherence and knowledge among parents and caregivers. The research was published in the September 2008 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

When it comes to older adults, the Medicare website has been found to be a difficult place for them to navigate. The University of Miami School of Medicine’s Center on Aging studied people age 50 and over to find out how they fared in learning about and selecting Medicare Part D prescription plans. The study, Medicare Beneficiaries’ Knowledge of Part D Prescription Drug Program Benefits and Responses to Drug Costs, was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers tested the usability of Medicare’s online Drug Plan Finder. After a period of training, the researchers found that the Medicare enrollees had trouble on the site — with language, the logistics of clicking and scrolling, and with the language used.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Whatever the age of the citizen or caregiver, understanding health directions is the sine qua non for good health outcomes. Keeping the ultimate outcome of the public’s health top-of-mind will help health communicators develop media — instructions, graphics, messages — that do what they’re supposed to do. Think like a consumer product marketer when it comes to communicating health messages. By keeping it plain, simple and engaging, you’ll help to meet and overcome the continued challenge of health literacy.