Academic journal article Online Journal of Issues in Nursing

Educating Nursing Students about Health Literacy: From the Classroom to the Patient Bedside

Academic journal article Online Journal of Issues in Nursing

Educating Nursing Students about Health Literacy: From the Classroom to the Patient Bedside

Article excerpt


All nurses and nursing students today must be able assess patients for health literacy limitations and intervene to assure patient understanding of important health information. In this article the authors discuss the significance of the health literacy problem and share strategies for identifying and intervening with patients who have limited health literacy. They also describe how they incorporated health literacy content into their nursing education program and assessed the impact of this brief, health literacy education session. The analysis and results of this assessment indicated both a significant increase in student knowledge related to health literacy and the need for nurses to assess more fully patients' understanding of what they have been taught. Patient initiative in asking for assistance in understanding health -re fated information was limited. Discussion and implications of these findings for nursing education and nursing practice are provided.

Citation: Sand-Jecklin, K., Murray, B., Summers, B., Watson, J., ( July, 23, 2010) "Educating Nursing Students about Health Literacy: From the Classroom to the Patient Bedside " OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing Vol. 15 No. 3.

DOI: 10.3912/OJIN.Voll5No03PPT02

Keywords: health literacy, nursing students, nursing education, health literacy assessment, teaching health literacy, Chew health literacy screening questions

Today's healthcare environment is rapidly changing and becoming increasingly complex. For patients who must navigate this complex system, make informed healthcare decisions, and care for acute or chronic health conditions at home, the complexity of healthcare terminology, devices, and instructions can be overwhelming. If, in addition to this complexity, patients have limited health literacy, managing their healthcare becomes even more difficult. Although low health literacy levels have been associated with poorer patient health outcomes, many healthcare professionals are unaware of which of their patients have health literacy limitations; and often they do not know how to intervene appropriately with these patients (Rogers. Wallace. & Weiss. 2006: Singleton. 2009). It is imperative that we as healthcare providers recognize when patients are struggling to understand health-related instructions, identify patients' usual means of compensating for health literacy limitations, and intervene appropriately to assure patients' understanding of their health conditions and required self-care behaviors. It is also essential that we incorporate health literacy- related content into the nursing education curriculum, so that new nurses will be skilled in communicating with patients having low health literacy levels.

In this article we will discuss the significance of inadequate health literacy and ways to identify and intervene with patients who have limited health literacy. We will describe how we incorporated health literacy content into a nursing curriculum and then assessed the impact of this education session on the students' ability to master the content and apply it in the clinical setting. We will also present findings regarding the incidence of health literacy limitations among a sample of medical-surgical patients and report their preferred behaviors to compensate for their lack of understanding of health-related information.

Significance of the Health Literacy Problem

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) (2004b) defines health literacy as the ability to obtain, understand, and act on healthcare information and instructions. This includes activities such as taking prescribed medications appropriately, providing informed consent for medical procedures and tests, following instructions for self-care of a health condition, reading food labels in order to follow a prescribed diet, and navigating the complex healthcare system (Cutilli, 2005: Hess&Whelan. 2009: Lorenzen. Melbv. & Earles. …

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