Health Literacy

Nyima tsamchoe









Healthcare literacy is the degree to which individuals can obtain, process, and understand necessary health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. As a nurse, physicians or case managers, it’s imperative to keep in mind ones’ education level and understanding level when providing education and teaching. Healthcare literacy is one of the major issues in today’s world yet very few talks about it. Healthcare literacy depends on individual factors such as communication skills of the client and the professional workers, culture, knowledge, personal demands, and situations.

Health information can be overwhelmed to any individual whether the client is well educated or high school dropout. When health information is provided in a stressful or unfamiliar situation, it is unlikely to be retained. Who is at risk for healthcare literacy? Anyone is at risk for it, but some populations are at higher risk than others. Populations that are more prone to health literacy are older adults, people with GED or less than high school education, English as the second language, racial and ethnic minorities, low-income family, people with compromised health status and unable to get access to resources.

Nurses and all other healthcare workers are primarily responsible for improving healthcare literacy. Since nurses are the frontline of patient care, we should not use medical terminologies when educating, communicating and teaching to the patients and the family members. We all healthcare team must work together to ensure that health information and services can be understood and used by all Americans. We must engage in skill building with healthcare consumers and health professionals. Adult educators can be productive partners in reaching adults with limited literacy skills.

Now a day in hospital settings, there is a benefit of using interpreters via telephone, face-to-face, and Skype. When we provide information to the patients and their families, it is essential to include only the critical information that is readily understandable and readable. One such example would be teaching a patient on how to check blood sugar. It is unnecessary to provide all the information on what causes diabetes and overwhelmed the patient. Simply show how to insert the needle, how many times a day they should monitor the blood sugar level and when they should do it, and what to do if the level is elevated.

It is also essential on breaking down the information and not mention all at one time. Doing so might be helpful because it will overwhelm the patient even more. According to case management advisor journal, “Work on a few key points during each visit or telephone conversation and reinforce them with patient-friendly handouts, Mullahy says. If you’re seeing patients in person, follow up with telephone calls to clarify the information and correct any misunderstandings.”

Some of the other tips to limit healthcare literacy include using colorful pictures and printouts, use of bullet points and graph, not using medical terminologies, use of scenarios, have information in a different language and have an interpreter available when it is needed.

It is also important to inform a discharging patient on the medications that they will be taking, why and when to take it. Informing them about what medication they are taking during their hospital stay is also important. I had a patient once in the rehabilitation center where I worked; the patient had no idea how to worked an inhaler (Breo Elipta). Instead of putting the capsule in the inhaler and break it, she was taking the capsule by mouth for two weeks prior to her admission at the rehabilitation center. I asked if any healthcare worker taught her how to take it, she told me the healthcare was talking very fast in English, and she didn’t understand and felt shame to asked her about it too.



Health plan focuses on healthcare literacy. (2013). Case Management Advisor24(7), 76-77.