To commemorate Health Literacy Month I’m sharing the following story from a colleague of mine who is a nurse. Her experience demonstrates the huge impact poor health literacy can have on patient outcomes and underscores why it is so important to take the time to engage with patients.
“Yesterday, I had a patient who drove himself to the hospital the day before for chest pain. He lives alone. He is 84 years old. Two months ago, he underwent stent placement in one coronary artery and was discharged on aspirin and given a prescription for Plavix. He never took the aspirin. He did not fill the prescription for Plavix. The protocol recommends one year of anti-coagulant therapy to maintain the patency of the stent. The cardiologist suspects the new stent has re-occluded. When I asked the patient what happened to the prescription, he told me he still has it in case he needs it.
When I offered my patient the newspaper yesterday, he declined. When a patient does not want the newspaper, I see red flags. I began to assess his literacy level. He can write his name. He can write the dates. He recognized the name of the paper but could not read the headlines. I asked him how he keeps track of his medications. He told me one of the staff members at his primary care physician’s office puts his medication in a pill organizer so he knows which ones to take when. Our hospital cardiac nurse educator gave him a booklet (everyone gets the same booklet). It uses the following terms “angina, triglycerides, sodium”. It is printed in Times New Roman, in 11-point font and it uses pictures, but the pictures are not in any context. He handed the booklet back to me saying, “I can’t use this.” I’m sharing my story as a reminder that we need to adapt how we communicate with our patients.”
How can the health care community increase health literacy among patients to improve outcomes?