Being a patient in a hospital can be incredibly overwhelming. Not only are they often feeling sick or in pain, but they’re also in a new and often unfamiliar setting. Many times they don’t fully understand or know what’s going on to and around them.
On top of the stress, the last thing a patient needs is to try to figure out all the medical jargon that nurses, doctors, aides, and the rest of the health care team use. While we as nurses might be acutely familiar with those words, we have to remember that our patients often aren’t.
Health literacy is essential for patients to understand their diagnosis and the resources that professionals give them. Having good health literacy involves finding, processing, understanding, and applying basic health care information to make appropriate and informed health decisions.
But that’s difficult to do if the way we give patients information doesn’t work for them. It’s important for every health care professional to continually improve their health literacy with the right resources. Here’s why it’s so crucial and how we at Clipboard Academy promote health literacy.
Why Is Health Literacy Important?
Health literacy helps health care professionals provide better care to patients, allowing them to make more informed decisions about risk-prevention, treatment, and management of their own health. It can also give clarity and aid to patients and their families with information about insurance coverage and options.
Most Americans don’t have a comprehensive understanding of health literacy. In fact, 9 out of 10 adults struggle to understand complex health care language when they read or hear it.
The common terminology used by doctors, nurses, and medical professionals is inaccessible to the average person. Unless the doctor or nurse is making a concerted effort to speak in terms that someone without medical experience can easily understand, some of the crucial information will be lost to the patient and their families.
This is why health literacy is so important. It breaks down the explanation and descriptions of diagnoses and treatments for patients in simple and accurate wording.
Through health literacy, nurses can help explain what’s going on to their patients and are better equipped to perform their responsibilities in providing quality and safe patient care.
Below are the ways that health literacy improves patient care.
You’ll be Better Able to Educate Patients
Don’t just tell your patients what’s going on — teach them about their condition and their treatments, so they have a better understanding of what their options are, what they’ll feel like, and their treatment timeline.
Teaching involves two parts. For one, you have to have the knowledge and expertise in a subject in order to effectively teach it. Next, you need the skills to listen to and understand the patient’s learning needs, so that you can adapt the information you’re teaching them to meet their specific situation.
Every patient is different, and the way you approach educating them should show that. That way, they’re better prepared to understand and remember the information you’ll give them.
It Improves Communication between Patients and Providers
It’s easier for your patients to ask you questions about what’s going on or more confidently participate in their own care if they know how to talk about their condition. Some patients may be shy or anxious, or they may feel that they’ll be ridiculed if they admit they don’t understand what’s going on.
By understanding the importance of health literacy and applying it to your practice, you open up the opportunity for better bedside manner and patient relations. Your patients will more likely feel that they can speak openly and clearly with you and other health care professionals. They can only do this when they know what they’re talking about.
It Reduces Errors and Mistakes
Don’t assume that patients understand what’s happening, and don’t assume that something is obvious. You certainly shouldn’t treat any patient as stupid, but take the time to patiently explain the information a patient needs long before a misunderstanding might occur.
For example, test results might come back negative, but a patient may believe that to be a bad thing in their situation. Or maybe you’re talking about a diet that a patient needs to start, and while they’re thinking it has to do with weight loss, what you’re really concerned about is reducing salt intake to protect their heart and blood pressure.
By speaking in a simplified and understandable language, you eliminate any dissidence that might appear between you and your patient as well as you and your patient’s other health care providers.
The Problem With Health Literacy Today
Despite all the benefits of proper health literacy, the health care field and the communities we serve have an ongoing health literacy problem.
When organizations and health care professionals use medical language that’s difficult for patients to understand, it creates a divide. We create a health literacy problem when we only use technical terminology, and the people who receive this information about their own health and bodies can’t comprehend it, because they don’t have the same medical experience and education as we do.
But another contribution to the problem of health literacy is people’s ability to access resources to learn more and make decisions about their own health.
Health literature is often expensive to write and distribute. Medical treatments and concepts constantly change, and this means that outdated materials might be discarded quickly or kept in circulation long past the time when they’re applicable or accurate.
It costs money to hire writers who both comprehend medical terminology and have the ability to translate it into simpler terms, not to mention the funds to print and distribute the materials.
Additionally, for many demographics, it’s difficult to access the resources and programs that can help further educate patients on their health. They may not even know where to look or understand why it’s important for them to be health literate.
How You Can Help with the Problem
As nurses, we can help bridge the gap in health literacy by practicing clear communication strategies and techniques. Help your patients and peers by using familiar words and concepts to start explaining medical conditions. Think of the most common conditions you come across and start mapping out a way for you to explain what’s happening to the patient and how treatment will help them using simple terms.
Remember, your patients will often be in a heightened state of mind when receiving medical information. You want to make sure what you’re saying is clear and will easily resonate with them. Repeat anything of importance, and always give them the opportunity to ask questions.
One way that you can improve your health literacy for others is to practice what you’ll say to your friends and family. Explain complicated medical terms and conditions to your peers in a language you think they would be able to understand. Ask them what they found clear and what gave them trouble to think about. Continue to develop what you’ll say until they no longer have any questions.
Additionally, learn about the community health resources that are available near you, or talk with the social work team at your facility to learn more about how you can help patients and the community better access the resources they need to improve their own personal health literacy.
How Clipboard Academy Promotes Health Literacy
A lot of the resources needed to improve health literacy are inaccessible to professionals and patients alike, especially online. However, at Clipboard Academy, we provide educational resources and tools to health care professionals who want to grow their careers.
At Clipboard Academy, we value:
- Ownership: We pride ourselves on connecting healthcare professionals with the best resources and job opportunities available. We aim to be not just a one-time solution but a continued medical resource throughout your career.
- Empathy: As health care professionals ourselves, we understand where you’re coming from. That’s why we aim to fulfill your education with firsthand knowledge and practical experience.
- Growth: We believe that good health care professionals never stop learning. Clipboard Academy wants to provide you with the tools and information to strengthen your abilities and see your goals through to their completion.
- Forward-thinking: We want you to learn skills, not only to become a better nurse today but to build upon your current skills for a better future. Don’t just think about how the world is today; think about how it could be and how you can help get it there.
If you’re a nurse or health care professional looking to improve your health literacy, Clipboard Academy can help you. Our blog provides a resource for information on the outlook of nursing as a career, laws, and regulations, and a variety of conditions and treatments you may run into during the course of your practice. We also offer information on continuing education and nursing programs.