y latest side project is remodeling a house we bought in the past year. Whew, am I overwhelmed! Yesterday I went into a home design center and the staff member started asking me questions like "how tall are your ceilings," questions that involved acronyms, and questions like what type of sink do you want? All things I guess I should have known, but I didn’t. It made me feel overwhelmed and inadequate. The staff member was quick to slow down when I let her know I didn’t know what she was describing! I am confident in my abilities and life experiences to stop someone and say when I don’t understand. These feelings I had are very similar to what some of our patients feel. In our culture, medical professionals can be put on a pedestal it can be intimidating for a patient to ask a lot of questions if they do not understand what is being said.
Does your diabetes education facility have a culture sensitive to health literacy? I can remember about 10 years ago first learning about health literacy and clinics started making changes in the way they communicated with patients.
The month of October was Health Literacy Month. Let’s revisit the topic of health literacy and make sure your practice is doing everything they can to appropriately communicate with our patients.
As a diabetes educator, we play a key role in helping patients understand their doctors' recommendations. The health literacy gap is very apparent when you ask a patient to bring their medications to their appointment and you ask them, “When are you supposed to take this one?” or “What is this one for?” Many times patients struggle to answer those questions, especially when they have a bag of 10 or more prescriptions.
As a diabetes educator, we play a key role in helping patients understand their doctor's recommendations.
The Institute of Healthcare Advancement has a website dedicated to Health Literacy Month
. The theme for this year is “Be a Health Literacy Hero.” According to the site, “Health Literacy Heroes are individuals, teams or organizations who not only identify health literacy problems but also act to solve them.”
What can you do for Health Literacy Month?
- Raise awareness of why health literacy matters. Maybe that’s just putting it on the agenda at the next medical staff meeting and asking: are we doing enough for health literacy? Do we need to have a training at our facility?
- Make sure your handouts and forms are easy to read and understand. Make sure your office is reviewing your literature to make sure they are appropriate for low health literacy levels. For more diverse populations, check this database for handouts.
- Give an award in your community to those you consider Health Literacy Heroes. Publicly acknowledging them encourages others to become more sensitive to low health literacy. They have cute superhero themed graphics too. Then submit your hero’s description and share it with the world!
About the Author
Amy Campbell is a dietitian and certified diabetes educator. She currently works in public health in Lexington, Kentucky and has been working in diabetes for over seven years.