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Practice Tip of the Week: Promoting Health Literacy

Tuesday, December 22, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Kat Hinson
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 “Nurses have a professional and ethical obligation to communicate in a clear, purposeful way that addresses the unique information needs of each patient.” Carolyn I. Speros, DNSc, APRN, ANP/FNP-BC


Health Literacy

Health literacy has been defined as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.”    Low health literacy is most prevalent among persons with low socioeconomic status, minorities, seniors, and the medically underserved population.  Health literacy is a strong predictor of health status and people with low health literacy are more likely to have chronic health conditions and are less able to effectively manage them putting them at risk for poor outcomes and higher utilization of costly emergency services.   According to the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas, an estimated 3 million Texans are low health literate.  Improving health literacy is a shared responsibility.    

How Can Nurses Help?

As a trusted source of health information nurses can help in several ways including:

  • Assess for signs of low health literacy – people may be embarrassed to speak up. 
  • Use plain language and avoid medical jargon covering only information relevant to the person
  • Cluster information into “chunks” of 5 to 10 minutes of explanation with time to process
  • Limit the information to no more than 3 “take home” messages or key points
  • Reinforce verbal information with written handouts and brochures
  • Use open-ended questions to engage the person in a dialogue “what questions do you have?”
  • Verify understanding using the “teach-back” technique by asking them to explain the information to you in their own terms.

Resource:  Questions are the Answer

High quality healthcare is a team effort and nurses lead the way in facilitating improved communication between patients and families and healthcare providers.  It helps all patients and families when nurses help get their questions answered and it makes a significant impact for those with low health literacy.  To facilitate improved communication nurses can use a variety of patient involvement tools developed by the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research (AHRQ).  The tools include print information and videos and even an online question builder tool.  Nurses can order free copies of printed tips and tools including a DVD copy of a 7 minute video on the importance of asking questions by emailing  Spanish-language materials including podcasts and email updates are available also by clicking here.


Blog:   Clarity is Power:  An Effective Decision Aid Graphic   




Your Job is Not Done Until People Get It” - Dave deBronkart





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