Irradiating Barriers to Health Literacy

By Tammy McCausland posted 09-17-2019 17:50


This is a summary of the workshop given by Beverly Cusano and Kacey Morgan from the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute.

Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand the basic health information needed to assist them in making decisions regarding their health.

Education, living in poverty, age, race/ethnicity and disability impact health literacy. Signs of low health literacy, frequently missed appointments, noncompliance with medications, incomplete registration forms, lack of follow through on appointments, etc.

Low health literacy is everyone’s problem. The nurse’s role is patient advocacy; nurses work in almost every arena of health care and public health; and nurse have firsthand experience.

Low health literacy leads to:

  • Decreased use of preventative services
  • Poor management of chronic conditions
  • Increased preventable emergency visits
  • Increased preventable hospital admissions
  • Increased consumer medication errors
  • Poor understanding of nutrition labels
  • Increased mortality

To improve health literacy, you can:

  • Establish trust with patients.
  • Prioritize information
  • Speak plainly: slow down, use patient words, avoid jargon and acronyms and define terms.
  • Meet people where they are; don’t consider it as “dumbing down” text. Avoid medical jargon.
  • Include the family caregiver. Record the name of the family caregiver in the medical record.
  • Improve written materials (see the AHRQ toolkit). Use plain language; organize ideas; and pay attention to style, design and layout.

Administrators can support nursing’s role in improving literacy, financially support the cost of improving the current patient education materials, provide in-services for the entire team and assist in implementation.

Tone, body language and verbiage matter. You can use Teach-back:

  • Explain the key points using plain language.
  • Ask the patient to explain things back in their own words.
  • Re-explain key points as needed.
  • Check again.

You can use “Show Me” for demonstration.