By Becky McCaulley, RN
Health Literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and the services needed to make appropriate health decisions (Centers for Disease Control or CDC).
We can all become Health Literacy Ambassadors.
Those who provide health information and services to others need health literacy skills to help patients find information and services, communicate well about their health and healthcare, process what people are asking them for, and decide which information and services will work best.
Those who need health information and services also need health literacy skills to find them and to communicate their needs and preferences, process the meaning and usefulness of the information and services received, and understand the choices, consequences and context of the information. They can then decide which information and services match their needs and preferences so they can act on their own behalf (CDC).
As part of a community health center, Mountain Family staff are in a prime position to support health literacy by identifying a variety of practices and health education materials and that are appropriate for our patients. Ninety percent of individuals have some difficulty understanding complex jargon-filled health information. Low health literacy can result in increased morbidity and mortality and increased costs for healthcare. We can all improve health literacy by practicing communicating clearly using concepts and words that are familiar (Health Resources and Services Administration).
How can health care professionals can help?
Begin by identifying patients with limited literacy levels. Use simple language in short sentences, and supplement instructions with pictures or models. Use the Teach Back method, asking patients to explain your instructions (“I want to make sure I explained this to you correctly. Can you tell me in your own words how you understand the plan?”). Ask questions that begin with “how” and “what,” and avoid closed-ended yes/no questions. Be sure to organize information so the most important points stand out and repeat them. Consider the age, cultural, ethnic and racial diversity of patients. Offer assistance with completing forms (Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research).
Lastly, be sure to be positive and empowering. Our patients rely on us to navigate this complicated healthcare system.