According to a report issued by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) earlier this year, “Addressing health literacy is critical to transforming health care quality. Goals for safe, patient-centered, and equitable care cannot be achieved if consumers cannot access services or make informed health care decisions.”
Dean Schillinger, MD, chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine at San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center (SFGH), was the senior author for for the paper based upon a study run at SFGH and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Dr. Schillinger notes, “Depending on how you define it, nearly half the U.S. population has poor health literacy skills.”
The importance of adequate health literacy has been demonstrated by numerous clinical studies. Health literacy is directly linked to health. People who have sufficient understanding of health information often make better health choices, are better able to manage chronic health conditions, and have significantly better health outcomes.
People with low health literacy, on the other hand:
- – Have trouble navigating our complex healthcare system
- – Have higher rates of serious medication errors
- – Visit emergency room more often
- – Have more hospitalizations
- – Tend to miss preventative care visits
- – Have an increased likelihood of dying
- – Have poorer health outcomes for their children
Health literacy requires health education and information that is “digestible” by the average consumer. Hospitals, health insurance companies, health educators, managed care providers, and healthcare providers can help make the complexities of health and healthcare more understandable. They can create an environment which encourages health literacy by developing the following attributes (from the IOM paper) of a health-literate organization:
- 1. Has leadership that makes health literacy integral to its mission, structure and operations.
- 2. Integrates health literacy into planning, evaluation measures, patient safety and quality improvement.
- 3. Prepares the workforce to be health-literate and monitors progress.
- 4. Includes populations served in the design, implementation, and evaluation of health information and services.
- 5. Meets the needs of populations with a range of health literacy skills while avoiding stigmatization.
- 6. Uses health literacy strategies in interpersonal communications and confirms understanding at all points of contact.
- 7. Provides easy access to health information and services and navigation assistance.
- 8. Designs and distributes print, audiovisual, and social media content that is easy to understand and act on.
- 9. Addresses health literacy in high-risk situations, including care transitions and communications about medicines.
- 10. Communicates clearly what health plans cover and what individuals will have to pay for services.
How health-literate are you…and is your organization?
Posted – August 28, 2012