Health professionals, specifically nurses, are crucial for providing health information to their patients. Health literacy is an essential competence necessary to effectively communicate and deliver person-centered care. It also helps engage and empower patients to access services and make informed decisions about their wellbeing.
Given the value of proficient health literacy, healthcare professionals must lead efforts to ensure patients are as informed as possible, both in preventative healthcare measures and actions needed to treat any current health problems. However, there is often a lack of understanding that health literacy is much more than the reading level of patient education material.
Why is Health Literacy Important?
Again, proficient health literacy skills help patients advocate for themselves in a medical setting. This is important because poor health literacy skills increase an individual’s risk of the following:
- Not receiving treatment or receiving treatment too late
- Taking medication incorrectly or making other dangerous mistakes
- Experiencing treatment outcomes that are poorer than those with more advanced health literacy
- Needing treatment and other services to a greater extent than those with good health literacy
Even when people with poor health literacy skills can access health information, either online or in-person, from a healthcare provider, barriers such as mistrust and poor reading and writing skills can increase the risk of miscommunication. Luckily, travel nurses can use a few strategies to improve health understanding among their patient populations.
Promote A Welcoming Environment
A common obstacle to proficient health literacy for patients is a lack of trust in providers. Patients may feel uncomfortable communicating about health-related issues with nursing professionals for many reasons, including language and cultural differences or even just a general dislike of their health providers. Establishing a welcoming environment is the first step to building trust with patients.
If patients feel welcomed and that they are being listened to, they will be more likely to ask questions and divulge more helpful information. Greeting all new patients with a smile and maintaining eye contact during a conversation are two ways to reinforce a positive setting and make patients feel at ease.
Use Plain Language
Plain language or “living room language” is beneficial for everyone! It is important to remember that even people with good literacy skills find understanding healthcare information challenging. They often don’t understand medical vocabulary and the basic concepts in health and medicine, such as how the body works or navigating the healthcare system. Nurses should use everyday words instead of medical jargon to prevent any miscommunication.
Asking patients to explain a concept or direction back to you is also a great way to prevent miscommunication. This Teach-Back method helps ensure you are clear in all patient conversations and allows you to clarify any misunderstanding if needed. Teach-Back should not mimic what you said, but patients should use their own words to explain understanding.
Provide printed information
Printed materials, such as diagrams and pamphlets, effectively relay crucial information to patients. It is helpful to use these materials whenever possible, as some information may not have a printed version. If you don’t already provide printed information, test the materials on patients for a limited time to determine their efficacy. The most accessible materials will use elementary language, which is comprehensible at the middle-school level.
Ask And Encourage Questions
By asking simple questions, you can determine if your patient understood the information or instructions by the accuracy of their answers. Open-ended questions, such as, “What questions do you still have?, or possibly, “We just reviewed a lot of information. What parts would you like me to go over with you again?” can leave room for patients to express any concerns or lingering thoughts they may have. Encouraging questions also enable providers to discern whether the patient has any gaps in knowledge or understanding that could be problematic.
It is important to start improving health literacy skills among patients as soon as possible. Nurses and nurse managers, physicians, and other medical professionals play an essential role in ensuring that patients understand varying health-related issues and concerns, particularly those related to their health and well-being. If you’re eager to help patients understand information about their wellbeing, contact us today or check out our available travel nurse jobs!