What Can We Do?
Providers are already pressed for time. Reimbursement issues loom. Formularies are ever-changing. Recognizing that a patient may identify his medications more by color than by name, a provider may instruct someone to take the “blue pill,” hoping that it is not the “pink version” of the pill that the patient will receive when he/she goes to the pharmacy.
Yet, there are things that both individual providers and entire health systems can do to ease the burden for patients who struggle with technical terms and concepts. Clearly, most people can’t arrange to quickly improve their reading skills before they can successfully take their next dose of medicine or fill out their next insurance form.
Recommendations for Individual Providers
- Help people maintain their dignity and confidence
- Speak in lay terms
- Obtain easy-to-read, patient-focused materials in the appropriate languages
- Check for patient comprehension using the teach-back method
- Develop a list of resources to which patients who need further information and counseling can be referred
Recommendations for System-Wide Change
- Assess the literacy skills of constituent patient populations
- Evaluate the literacy demand of current provider health communications
- Increase staff awareness and expertise in plain language health communications
- Build health communication resources
- Create a guilt-free environment that gently acknowledges the barriers people face
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. Using a range of methods, a CKHS team led by Nancy Bucher, vice president and Compliance Officer, will attempt to institute the recommendations mentioned above.
Some steps have already been taken to create an environment that recognizes the varying literacy needs of the CKHS patient population. Readers of The Journal may have noticed the “In Brief” boxes that now accompany most articles. These boxes are an attempt to make the content of each article easier to understand. In addition, throughout the month of October — which is national Health Literacy Month — all employees received weekly health literacy tips in their e-mail boxes. Physicians, nurses and employees can expect many more learning opportunities in the future.