What is health literacy?
Health literacy can be described as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. In other words, it’s not just a person’s ability to read, but a person’s ability to maintain his or her own health through scheduling appointments with the right providers at the right time and taking medication properly. Even more simply put, health literacy is the skill to use health knowledge and services to make better health choices.
“Inadequate health literacy is a significant concern in today's health-care environment as more than one-third of all Americans don't understand the basic medical information that's needed to make informed health care decisions,” said Deborah Christopher, director, Quality and Patient Safety. This knowledge gap can have serious repercussions: poor medication adherence, increased mortality, increased hospital readmissions and trips to the Emergency Department.
Clinicians can help improve patients’ health literacy by using clear and concise verbal and written communications and appropriate teaching methods such as the teach-back technique. This technique is when a patient is asked to describe his or her understanding of the plan of care back to a care provider after it is explained to him or her.
PAH formed a Health Literacy Task Force in 2009 to focus on meeting the health literacy needs of patients. A multi-disciplinary group, the Task Force is comprised of representatives from Pharmacy, Nursing, Quality & Performance Improvement, Nutrition, Nursing Education, and Library Services and a community volunteer. Task Force Members have completed formal training on health literacy principles and standards which was sponsored by SEPA-READS, a regional program supporting the improvement of education for patients 50 and older with cardiovascular health concerns.