Health Literacy Tips: Speak Plainly, Teach Often

When admitted to a hospital, a patient and their loved ones are given a generous amount of information. The patient’s condition, treatment plan, prognosis, discharge instructions, lab reports, and more are a lot to digest. Health literacy is key to helping everyone understand what is happening and make informed, shared decisions about health care.

America’s health literacy challenge

According to reports based on research by the U.S. Department of Education, nearly 130 million American adults read below a sixth-grade level, and only 12% of Americans have proficient health literacy skills.

Healthy People 2030 defines health literacy as the extent to which “individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions for themselves and others.”

The challenge in health literacy is that it can be impacted by several factors, including age, reading level, language barriers, religious beliefs, culture, ethnicity, socioeconomics, disabilities, and more. And if all of these factors are not considered by nurses and other members of the healthcare team, then health literacy will be inadequate.

Inadequate health literacy can affect timely access to care, continuity of care, and patient satisfaction. It can also contribute to low compliance with discharge instructions, which can increase the chances that a patient will be readmitted.

Knowing how to promote health literacy with patients and their families is key to helping patients recover in-hospital and continue healing post-discharge. Here are some tips that can help.

Start trust building on day one

Shalla Newton, RN

Don’t delay. Start promoting health literacy when you first meet the patient and family. Assure them that they are in an inclusive care environment and that staff will be respectful of their cultural and spiritual beliefs and sexual or gender orientation, as well as their communication preferences. Encourage them to participate in their care. Identify the patient’s decision makers, and include them in any discussions throughout the hospital stay and during discharge planning.

Assess your patient, then act

Do a full assessment of the patient’s ability to understand health information and participate in treatment decisions and plans. Determine if any hearing, speech, language, or cognitive issues could affect their ability to communicate or understand health information. Be prepared to address any barriers you encounter.

Identify the patient’s preferred language for discussing health care, note it in the medical record, and communicate it to all staff who will be caring for the patient. If the patient’s preferred language is not English, plan for language services to help with interpretation and for educational materials and consents to be available in the proper language.

Choose teaching materials wisely

Use teaching materials that supplement your explanations about diagnoses and treatments. These materials should be appropriate for each patient’s reading level and preferred language.

Use the primary nursing model

In the primary nursing model, the primary bedside nurse assumes most of the role of educating the patient and family and ensuring they understand and can comply with the diagnosis and ongoing care.

This nurse serves as the point person for collaboration among interdisciplinary teams for the …read more

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