The most recent literacy survey by the US Department of Education found that only 13% of the adult population can full understand all the health care information presented to them. So how can professional caregivers deal with low health literacy?
First, understand you cannot assess health literacy by looking at someone. Patients with limited health literacy are adept at hiding their deficits. Even people with well-developed literacy skills may avoid asking questions for fear of appearing unintelligent.
Second, adopt an attitude that is friendly and supportive. Though we like to think of ourselves as helpful, sometimes our interactions can seem intimidating.
Third, follow these steps to improve communication:
- Slow down. It can actually save time later.
- Ask a patient to describe their condition and use their words when responding.
- Use visual images and videos.
- Provide small amounts of information and repeat it.
- Ask patients or caregivers to repeat back information.
- Encourage questions but substitute "Do you have questions?" for "What are your concerns?"
$106 to $238 billion/year. This is a problem that is too big to ignore.
What tips do you have for overcoming low health literacy?