Limited health literacy is one of the most underappreciated barriers to effective health care delivery. According to the CDC, as many as nine out of 10 adults struggle to understand and apply health information when it is unfamiliar, complex, or jargon-filled, which can result in confusion and negative outcomes. With October marking Health Literacy Month, we are reminded of just how important it is for healthcare providers to understand their patients’ literacy levels and practice clear patient communication to improve care.
Health literacy skills are necessary for locating health information and services, understanding healthcare options and consequences, and communicating health-related needs and preferences to providers.
Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina M. Benjamin has noted, “As clinicians, what we say does not matter unless our patients are able to understand the information we give them well enough to use it to make good health-care decisions. Otherwise, we didn’t reach them, and that is the same as if we didn’t treat them.”
Here are a few ways practices can improve patient communication:
- Use plain language: Avoid overusing medical jargon and focus on everyday words. For example, use “for a short time” instead of “temporary,” “harmful” instead of “adverse,” and “belly” instead of “abdomen.”
- Ensure written communication is easy to read: Keep the content simple. Use short sentences and paragraphs, avoid using elaborate fonts, and consider how text can be formatted with headers or bullets. Also, incorporate visuals where helpful to illustrate complex concepts or ideas.
- Acknowledge cultural differences: Patient demographics and cultural values – including gender, race, and religion – can influence the way healthcare information is perceived and followed. Practitioners should ensure that health information they are sharing is relevant to the patient and delivered with respect.
At Curi, we help our members effectively communicate health information to patients and their families in a number of ways. For instance, we use health literacy software to ensure that our procedure-specific consent forms are written for a sixth- to eighth-grade reading level.
If a practice is concerned about the reading level of its consent forms or other patient communication materials, Curi can assess and provide feedback for improvement. Members can also use our updated Informed Consent Toolkit as a guide. For more information or further assistance, call the risk management department at (800) 662-7917.
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