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Understanding Healthcare Literacy in Patient Education

Understanding Healthcare Literacy in Patient Education

Kathy Quan | NursingLink

One of the most important roles for all nurses is patient education. As we move forward with the healthcare reform, that role is going to continue to expand in action and importance.

A big concern plaguing the new reform act is the high cost of medical care. Through education and information, nurses can help patients learn more about their health status and achieve improved outcomes. As patients become responsible for their own care and outcomes, this will help contain these exorbitant costs. Nurses will play a huge role in the implementation and success of healthcare reform.

Preventative care and learning to take proactive measures to reduce risks and achieve better outcomes are all aspects of patient education in addition to teaching about the disease and the current prescribed treatment.

The problem is, more than half of the adult population of the U.S. is considered healthcare illiterate; meaning they have no understanding of their health status and therefore no idea what questions to ask so that they can better educate themselves. Literacy includes not only the ability to read, but to comprehend, understand and reason.

There are approximately 44 million people in the U.S. today who cannot read medication labels, nor read or follow a map. Another 50 million can’t read beyond a fifth grade level. To understand science and math requires a minimum of a tenth grade reading level. Add in the segment of the population who don’t speak or read English (and perhaps don’t read their native language) and you have a huge patient education challenge.

In today’s convoluted healthcare delivery systems, even professionals have a difficult time navigating the maze of policies and procedures, let alone the average American adult. Unfortunately, the only way to achieve maximum benefit to the patient is to learn how the system works, how to navigate it, and how to make it work for him. And helping patients get educated is a new role nurses are expected to take.

Playing Detective

Once upon a time, doctors did the majority of patient teaching. But now nurses have assumed most of this role. To be effective, it’s important for nurses to understand that even the most educated and intelligent patient may be completely healthcare illiterate. And it’s also important to play detective and learn what patients do and don’t know already and go from there.

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