5 Ways to Improve Health Literacy

5 Ways to Improve Health Literacy

To most of us, improving the overall quality of health care and reducing costs without cutting programs or services seems impossible. Heated political debates and the news media have most of us convinced that there’s just no easy way to improve our existing health care system without sacrificing something, but this is a case of treating the symptoms instead of curing the source. According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), only 12 percent of American adults possess a proficient level of health literacy. Stop and think about that for a moment. This means that almost 90 percent of adults in the United States are illiterate when it comes to their health. Studies continually link low rates of health literacy to higher rates of hospitalization and lower usage of preventive care services. The same preventive care services that could effectively prevent patients from hospitalization – hospitalizations that drive up the overall cost of health care. It’s clear that improving health literacy is an extremely important part of improving America’s health care system. So how can public health professionals improve health literacy? Five ways to improve health literacy are to use plain language, visuals, multilingual translations, the teach back method, and a call to action in your health education materials. 1. Use Plain Language   Just because someone has poor health literacy doesn’t mean they’re unintelligent. It just means that they don’t understand complex medical terminology. Instead of just using jargon, make sure to define any medical terms in a way that’s easy for people to understand. Clearly present the information they need to know and organize lengthy pieces...
How To Improve Health Literacy With Visuals

How To Improve Health Literacy With Visuals

A low level of health literacy affects 90 million people in the United States.  Patients struggle to understand and act on health information that can include following instructions after a doctor’s visit, treating an illness or properly taking medication all of which puts them at a higher risk for health problems. Patients are often too preoccupied with their symptoms to fully concentrate and process medical information.  All patients, at all literacy levels, need help remembering and understanding what they hear.  Doctors want to communicate clearly, but generally use terminology that is too technical and precise for the patient.  Studies show that 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and that 40% of people respond better to visual information better than plain text. To help improve communication and get a better understanding of health education materials, doctors should include visuals on all forms of health communication.    Visuals closely linked to written text can increase the patient’s attention and recall of the health education information.  They also improve comprehension, especially when presenting information about spatial relationship. This example displays a great visual representation of how to summarize information as it relates to pills and time of day.  Extensive writing would be necessary to cover the same information shown.  The image visibly communicates health instructions to patients by providing clear medical information that patients and quickly reference.           The visuals help readers take focus on the most important details and guide them directly to the primary point.  Patients who struggle to understand health information are at a greater risk for health problems, which has a negative...

Improving Medication Management

Medications are involved in 80 percent of all treatments and can potentially affect every aspect of a patient’s life. Each year, over one million Americans experience a health problem because they do not take their medicine as their doctor prescribed. To help improve this problem, hospitals are providing additional patient education through medication management. Medication management is the effective use of medications by optimizing safe, educational and appropriate use. Studies show it can reduce 60 percent of hospital readmissions that relate to misuse, as well as help to improve patient satisfaction. The transition from hospital to home may cause confusion for a patient as there are many things to consider. For example, will there now be any type of a medication change? Is there a clear understanding of which medications to take, how often, and for how long? The most common reasons patients fail to take their medication properly is forgetfulness, unwanted side effects, the medications themselves are too expensive, or they experience difficulties with getting a prescription filled. The consequences to any of these can be potentially harmful, or even fatal. A medication management plan is not only necessary to have in place, but also needs to involve clear communication with all parties involved, including the patient, the doctor and the pharmacist. By working together, they will help oversee prescriptions and answer any questions that may arise. Tips to help patients manage their medications:   1) Be informed about all medications Make sure the pharmacy label says why the patient needs this medication, what the medication is for and the proper way to administer it. Keep an up-to-date...
Understanding Health Literacy

Understanding Health Literacy

Health literacy is complicated.  Many people struggle with understanding medications, self-care instructions, and follow up plans.  Health literacy is the ability to understand medical jargon and make the best decisions for your health.  Health literacy means more than reading words but also numbers, symbols, charts, as well as being able to weigh risks and benefits in order to make the best health care decisions. Navigating within the medical arena is challenging for everyone, even those with a high level of literacy.  Primary care practices should ensure that systems are in place to promote better understanding for all patients.  One-third of the adult population has limited health literacy, which is associated with medication errors, increased health care costs and inadequate knowledge of care for chronic health conditions. Health literacy can affect anyone, no matter his or her level of education.  Individuals with low health literacy may have difficulty with the following tasks: Filling out medical forms Communicating with health care providers Reading labels on medications Managing and maintaining follow-up plans   Health care providers rely heavily on print materials to communicate with patients. Many health-related documents are written at a college level, containing a large amount of text in small print with complex terminology.  Those with limited literacy skills have difficulty understanding written information, including medication dosage instructions and warning labels and basic health information about diseases, nutrition, prevention, and health services. The inability to read and comprehend can prevent clinicians from obtaining an accurate medical history. It can also affect your patients’ ability to understand medical advice, take medication correctly, engage in self-care behaviors, and make informed decisions about their...
Judging a Book by its Cover

Judging a Book by its Cover

Recently I had the opportunity to participate as a judge in a media awards event.  This was my first time doing this and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The materials, both print and video, were submitted by consumer health professionals who work in consumer health education fields.  Content, format, success in reaching the targeted audience and overall quality were the criteria used in determining their score. There were hundreds of entries from vendors across the nation. From a simple credit card sized immunization schedule, to an elaborate worksite wellness kit that included a DVD, t-shirt and poster. I judged disease and injury prevention information, patient education information, consumer decision-making information as well as other miscellaneous health information.  I reviewed so much information that by the end of the day I could identify most vendors with a blink of an eye. Some of the entries were excellent, some were good and some were average. The ones that scored excellent had well written- easy to follow format and clear content. Most importantly, they provided a compelling cover or tagline, one that engaged me from the start- I didn’t have to think about what it was they were trying to convey.  I knew what I liked almost immediately and spent more time reviewing those in particular than those with less appealing covers. Let’s face it, we all buy with our eyes first, or judge books by their covers.  To prove this, think about the last time you bought a car.  You didn’t begin your search by looking at the interior.  You began your search looking at the outside.   Judge your...