Can Physicians Improve Patients' Health Literacy?

Article excerpt

IRVINE, CALIF. -- Keep an eye out for patients who are at high risk for low health literacy--typically seniors, immigrants, those with low levels of education, Medicaid recipients, and those in poor health, Jeannette Hilgert said at a meeting sponsored by the Institute for Healthcare Advancement.

Once you have identified a patient who has low health literacy, adjust your approach, said Ms. Hilgert, program administrator at the Venice (Calif.) Family Clinic. For example, it helps to speak slowly, use plain, nonmedical language, and repeat the important information. It is also a good idea to review written materials for clarity and simplicity. Consider using a variety of visual aids that portray written instructions, such as prescription instructions and preventive strategies.

Recent studies indicate that patients' adherence to medical instructions improved by at least 25% when the instructions were supplemented with visual aids.

Health care visits are particularly overwhelming and confusing to patients with chronic conditions, Ms. Hilgert said. A survey at the Venice Family clinic discovered that 33% of patients do not initiate discussions about their health with their doctor. …