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Health Literacy Tips

Crozer-Keystone Health System has launched a system-wide initiative to address the issue of health literacy among the patients and family members of its five hospitals and external locations. People with marginal literacy skills do not comprise a small "special population" for whom a few specially designed materials should be kept on hand. They represent a significant segment of society and include people who head families, go to work every day, and manage a range of conditions.

In recognition of Health Literacy Month (October), CKHS employees received weekly messages filled with tips to help them effectively communicate with patients.

Here are some examples:

Giving Specific Instructions

  1. Write it down. Give brief instructions in writing. Try to print clearly. Or give preprinted instructions, when you can.
  2. Use plain language, and avoid medical symbols.
  3. Let people know YOU CARE about how well you have explained things.
  4. Go over instructions verbally. Try to take your time.
  5. Check for real understanding. Ask him/her to repeat the main points. Tell him/her that you want to be sure that YOU have done a good job of explaining things.

When patients go home, they can read what you said, or they can have someone else read it for them. Putting your advice in writing can help both fast and slow readers to understand, remember and follow through.

Speak in Layman's Terms

Instead of saying…

"To stage your malignancy, we need to perform diagnostic scans. Then, once we know the etiology, we can discuss some of the various chemotherapy treatment options."

You can say something like…

"You have cancer, and I need to know where it has spread. A CAT scan should tell us. Then, we'll know if drugs can stop it."

Find the plain language terms for words such as…

renal failure, cardiac arrest, immunization, otolaryngology, hypertension, contraindications, effective, ambulatory, analgesic, subsequent, determine, invoice

Make Things LOOK Easy to Read

Do you ever select or write materials for patients? If so, use headers, white space, vertical lists and bullets to make things easier to read. This even includes the letters you send.

Here's an example


Diabetic eye disease is a serious problem that can lead to loss of sight. It may even be developing when your eyesight is good. If you are having trouble reading, if your vision is blurred, or if you're seeing rings around lights, dark spots, or flashing lights, you may have eye problems.


Are YOU developing eye problems?

Diabetic eye disease is a serious problem that can lead to loss of sight. It may even be developing when your eyesight is good. Here are some signs that you may have eye problems:

You are seeing rings around lights, dark spots, or flashing lights.

You are having trouble reading.

Your vision is blurred.

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