Do you understand what it means when your physician says to take your medication BID? What about when you have just been told that you had a Myocardial Infarction? Do you feel comfortable when you are asked to make a medical decision regarding end of life care for a loved one? All of these statements deal with one’s health literacy.
“Medical jargon” or hearing a medical professional speak to you in medical terms or words one may not understand can often lead to poor communication and ineffective or inappropriate health decisions.
Communication is an essential piece between the speaker and the listener.
If health communication is ineffective or misunderstood serious complications can arise. Maybe you take too much of your medicine or do not have a follow-up test; maybe you do not use the exercise machine correctly and injure yourself. All of these things can be prevented when health information is properly taught and understood by your patients.
How should health professionals ensure patients are health literate?
- When developing education materials we must pay attention to ensuring the font is large enough, medical terms are appropriately defined in layman’s terms, and any pictures make sense or further explain the information expressed in the material.
- When speaking to your clients, make sure you speak in terms they comprehend, look for body language that indicates they understand, and explain further what the medical information is that you are trying to relay.
- Ensure you properly teach how to use specific equipment (i.e. example of how to use the glucometer in your newly diagnosed patient with diabetes). Also make sure clear instructions are properly given on how to take any prescribed prescriptions.
- In our current age of the Internet we need to stress to our clients where credible health information can be obtained and not believing everything they read on the Internet. With many languages being spoken in our country, we must also ensure that our materials are available in a multitude of languages. It is also a good idea to have a resource available such as Language Line or Interpreters. Remember it is not a good idea to have family or friends interpret since information can often be misrepresented.
My college textbook “Health Literacy in Primary Care” made a profound statement that has allowed me to look at my interactions with patients diligently. It said “Health Literacy is about access to care.” Can healthcare providers make communication so effective that we allow all, regardless of level of education, status, etc., the ability to have access to exceptional healthcare, improving health literacy levels for both practitioner and patient?