Center for Health Literacy

Empower citizens with clear program information

When we founded our Center for Health Literacy, we had one goal: make complex health program information easy for people to understand and use. Two decades later, we apply the same proven strategies to improve the Citizen Journey across the range of government programs we serve, helping more people understand and use the benefits available to them.

A quick look at our mission and services

Government benefits programs are complex. We make it simple. Our mission is to ensure everyone understands the benefits available to them, whether it’s health coverage, public assistance, or employment support.

Who we help

Vulnerable populations are more likely to have trouble getting the help they need. We make the process easier by taking a customer-centric approach to developing communications.

Why it matters

Citizens who don’t understand program information are more likely to ignore it, miss deadlines, and go without services. The toll is obvious — poorer outcomes, lower satisfaction, and higher administrative costs. Well-informed consumers, on the other hand, are empowered.

Why choose us?

We understand underserved populations. We speak their languages. We know their cultures. Based on our years of experience, we’ve developed best practices in writing, design, translations and consumer testing — for both print and digital materials.

Download our quick checklist for plain language

Center for Health Literacy

Health literacy is the degree to which consumers can read, understand, and use basic health information. Health materials that are difficult to read can result in:

  • Poor health outcomes
  • Inappropriate and expensive use of services
  • Higher administrative costs

The Maximus Center for Health Literacy develops web and print materials that are easy to read and use. We help governments and organizations communicate effectively with consumers. The benefits of using our services include:

  • Informed consumers capable of making meaningful choices
  • Improved health outcomes
  • Reduced administrative and healthcare costs
  • Streamlined processes
  • Effective outreach campaigns
Download our Health Insurance Quick Guide

Our services include:

  • Writing, design, and web design

    Almost half of the American public, including many Medicaid clients, has difficulty understanding and using information developed above the eighth-grade reading level. However, most health-related materials are written at a tenth-grade level or higher. The Center for Health Literacy writes in plain language, using common words that most readers can understand. We use inviting, clear and, consistent design that promotes readability.

    Making the web truly friendly

    We create websites that use straightforward navigation and a friendly, streamlined style, so that consumers can easily find the information they need. Our websites are suitable for a broad public audience, including visitors with limited literacy skills.

    Comprehensive writing and design services

    • Development or revision of informational and marketing materials
    • Plain language writing
    • Uncluttered, appealing graphic design
    • Easy-to-use and accessible websites that meet Section 508 guidelines
    • Multilanguage translation and culturally appropriate communication materials

    Connecting practical experience with effective communication

    The Illinois workNet Program needed to simplify a series of Summer Youth Employment Activity Sheets, so they tapped into the Maximus Center for Health Literacy to get the job done. These Activity Sheets were designed to enable clients to complete and track activities that might help them find and keep a job. We streamlined the text, simplified the vocabulary, and gave the Activity Sheets clean and appealing designs. The newly designed Sheets are well-organized and easier to complete and have proven to be a more effective tool for job-seeking youth. See the Activity Sheets before and after.

  • Usability and community testing

    Our qualitative research with your consumers, right in their communities, helps you understand their perceptions and needs. Our field testing includes one-on-one interviews to test readability and focus groups to gather information about consumers’ opinions and reactions to materials, translations, and outreach strategies.

    We identify the needs of consumers and determine how best to communicate with them, using:

    • Qualitative research, including in-depth interviews, focus groups, and ethnography
    • Analysis of socio-cultural and linguistic influences on how consumers understand health messages

    We test websites with real users to find out whether the design is user-friendly and appealing, accessible to people with disabilities, with clear messaging and intuitive navigation. We then provide a full report, including recommendations for improvements that will ensure that most people who use the site can find what they need.

    Success Story: Enrollment Assistance Program

    The Enrollment Assistance Program wanted to know if In Person Assisters (IPAs) were satisfied with their training, and if not, where improvements were needed. They also wanted recommendations for improvements and future training.

    Scope: Enrollment Assistance Program provides In Person Assisters (IPAs) to help consumers find a healthcare plan through the Marketplace. IPAs must complete CMS-developed training for certification.

    The Challenge: IPAs take a 20-hour online training. CMS wanted to know if they were satisfied with the amount and method of training and if they had recommendations for improvements.

    The Solution: CMS turned to the Maximus Center for Health Literacy for answers. Three Maximus researchers conducted focus groups with IPAs and managers at eight enrollment offices across four states. Researchers and participants discussed the training format, delivery, content, and design, and ways to improve the training.

    The Outcome: The focus groups revealed that many IPAs enter the training with no prior knowledge of enrollment services. Even after training, they did not feel prepared to assist consumers in all situations. The majority wanted in-person and refresher training. The Center‘s report included recommendations for improving the current online training content and creating future training for new and veteran IPAs.

  • Translation services

    To reach ethnically diverse populations, health program materials must be in the right language and at the right literacy level, and speak to the culture of the target population. The Center for Health Literacy’s Translation Services Group translates materials into many languages and adapts translations for readers with limited literacy.

    Ensuring excellent quality translations

    We can help you assess the quality of your translations. Our independent reviewers use a comprehensive checklist that covers grammar, spelling and punctuation, formatting conformity, and cultural appropriateness, so you can pinpoint your translators’ strengths and weaknesses. We conduct field testing in many languages so that you know when your translated documents are communicating effectively with the target audience.

    Comprehensive translation services

    • Translating materials such as applications, brochures, letters, handbooks, and forms
    • Adapting translations to be culturally and linguistically appropriate and relevant to consumers
    • Field testing translated materials to ensure effective communication
    • Helping you choose well-qualified bilingual staff
    • Supporting your team with the resources they need in their own languages
    • Evaluating the quality of your translated materials

    Translation: A Must-Have Guide is an illustrated manual written to help readers understand the translation process. This guide explains what's involved in translation — even when you don't know the language. This guide will take the mystery out of a process that's often intimidating and not well understood, and will leave you with the confidence that your translation is accurate, understandable, and culturally appropriate for your audience. Download the guide

  • Training and Workshops

    We can teach your writers, designers, and website developers on how to improve the readability of your print materials and the usability of your websites.

    Success Story: Connecticut Department of Social Services

    Connecticut’s Department of Social Services wanted to make legally mandated requirements easier to read and use. The Center conducted an all-day “train the trainers” workshop for the Department on how to write in plain language for all levels of readers. The Center also wrote and presented a style guide of best practices for new and veteran writers.

    Success Story: Legacy Health System, Portland, Oregon

    Legacy Health is the largest nonprofit, locally owned health system in the Portland-Vancouver area.

    The Center conducted an all-day “train the trainers” workshop for Legacy staff, focusing on easy-to-learn writing and design strategies to improve the readability of web and print materials. The workshop included participant practice and a 90-minute curriculum for the trainers to use. Since the workshop, Legacy staff members have trained more than 100 employees using the curriculum provided by the Center. The Center followed up by presenting two sessions on plain language at Legacy’s 2014 Health Literacy Conference.