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2 Recommendations

Challenge Health Literacy-learning the language of patients

By A/Prof. Terry HANNAN Advisor | 03 Dec, 2014

I am interested to hear the ideas and possible solutions regarding the issues surrounding "health literacy" which is critical in any communications with patients. The "language" of health care is not that of the ordinary citizen and is a major factor in poor outcomes relating to patient care (IOM, 2014).
This phenomenon was recently highlighted in a workshop I participated in for GHDonline in the Harvard School of Public Health.


Daniel Velez-Ortiz Replied at 1:32 PM, 5 Dec 2014

Hello- I am interested in reading more about the language of health care issue. Can you please share the citation for the IOM report where this issue is discussed?

Thank you!

A/Prof. Terry HANNAN Advisor Replied at 3:23 PM, 5 Dec 2014

Daniel, I posted the following on the discussion site yesterday.
Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 540 Gaither Road Rockville, MD 20850
I have also attached another two document to this posting. I hope they help

Attached resources:

Nancy Street Advisor Replied at 11:22 AM, 7 Dec 2014

HI Daniel and Terry,

May I suggest a website that I have accessed frequently for addressing health literacy:

I have found tools on this site for assessing literacy levels of written documents I use in clinical practice, notably the SAM and SMOG assessments.

I am so pleased to see this topic within this discussion section as it is vital that all providers attend to the literacy levels of all patient communication, whether verbal or written.

Anne-Marie Audet Replied at 9:26 PM, 8 Dec 2014

Hi everyone,

This is an important topic as it relates to the transformative potential of HIT to engage people and make a significant difference in their lives in terms of health and healthcare. It seems to me that literacy is one of a broader set of issues that we need to address - basically we're all looking for ways that will allow people to understand the nature of a health issue they face, and more importantly - what they can do to either stay healthy, recover from an acute illness or stabilize their condition. But even those goals are very healthsystem centric! In the end, people will seek counsel from providers because something is wrong or prevents them from living their lives as they want to. Language is one way of communicating and providing solutions, but there are so many other ways - hence suggestion here to perhaps bring other fields to the task - ethnographic inquiry, to get at the real source of the perceived problem, vs one providers articulate with their frame of mind. So asking why, why, why several times - then bringing human centered design to solutions -not only language levels but actually intuitive knowledge that people can also use.

Those are a few thought about this topic.

Soojin Jun Replied at 10:57 PM, 8 Dec 2014

Hello, all. This topic relates to another topic I posted in the sense of serving patients with language barriers. This population has another layer of literacy issue which complicates the problem and leaves this population underserved. For patients with limited English proficiency (LEP), a simple act of asking a preferred language and documenting this can help A LOT and moreover arranging the need ahead of time in an integrated healthcare system.

Although this topic is more for patients in general, I like you to include the patients with LEP in the thought process. They are also patients and they are increasing.

This idea may sound absurd or crazy to some people but more I practice healthcare, I feel health literacy should be part of early education in K-12 curriculum. If you think about it, people will say their number one priority is being healthy. Yet this information gets taught later in life mostly. This does not seem right to me because: 1. Many chronic diseases are from habits built from early on, especially when it comes to diet. 2. Many kids are on medications these days for ADHD, epilepsy, diabetes, and many others. There is limitation in what can be taught by parents as kids grow older. 3. For population with LEP, children act as translators and caregivers early on. This is not ideal but inevitable unless healthcare system can be hole-proof in providing language resources. This will be unlikely for time being and it will take a long time.

Early education in health literacy will help kids understand and possibly help prevent chronic diseases when they grow up. In the topic of health literacy, I mean it as a broad term that will include but not be limited to, reading nutritional facts, reading prescription label, flow of healthcare system, and many others. I see the need so much that I have to write in this discussion. Thanks for reading and I welcome your comments.


Anne-Marie Audet Replied at 1:04 PM, 10 Dec 2014

Soo - you bring up a critical point, which is cross sectoral partnerships since all of our sectors, education, healthcare, housing, we now increasingly recognize are connected. I am not an expert in education, the debate now in the US is mostly about the Common Standards, and we see many other areas no longer part of education - music (yet another language!), arts, etc.

I wonder if anyone has examples of initiatives to really change the education system - would not be that tough really to get health literacy on the agenda - also part of the sciences - just another emphasis.

Gates is investing in education - worth checking what they are doing in the sphere, pretty sure that it is on the radar.

Soojin Jun Replied at 9:53 PM, 11 Dec 2014

Anne-Marie, thank you for your comment.
Since this is a technology discussion, I like to include possible approach in that direction. Online classroom may be feasible and may be ideal option for young students in many ways, including the cost-sharing of possible hires, ease of access, and many more. However, combination of real time and online may be the most ideal teaching method. I recently read an article that many university students don't think stimulants are not serious drugs, but study aids! And at least a quarter of Ivy League students has used stimulants at some point! This is a serious public health issue. All I see in addiction program are teenagers and young adults; this tells me early education about health issues and serious consequences of misuse and abuse of drugs!


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