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The patient engagement prescription you may be missing

March 3, 2017

    Patients with low levels of health literacy cost the health system nearly twice as much as proficient patients. And patient education can be a challenge, given that one in five adults struggle to comprehend written or numerical instruction.

    To achieve better outcomes, it's critical that frontline staff factor in patient literacy when crafting care plan communication. 

    Consider these two lessons to integrate health literacy management into daily workflows across your organization.

    1. Assess patient literacy at first interaction

    The first step in improving health literacy is often the most overlooked: benchmarking patients' proficiency in understanding health information. Vanderbilt incorporated the Brief Health Literacy Screen (BHLS), a three-question tool integrated into their EHR system, to achieve a baseline understanding of how comfortable patients are with their health knowledge and instructions.

    Implementing a health literacy screening process across the medical center enabled Vanderbilt staff to identify low health literacy patients, develop appropriate resources for them—a critical step to achieving improved information uptake—and assess system-level performance by tracking patient success by health literacy proficiency.

    2. Streamline education materials for low-literacy patients

    Patient education materials are often plagued by unnecessary text, which diminish readability and reduce efficacy. When constructing materials for patients with low literacy, focus on clarity instead of quantity. Simplify written language, avoid jargon, and limit the characters on the page. 

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