Health Literacy: What is Your Patient’s Level of Understanding?

patient understanding, health literacyDo your hyperbaric oxygen therapy patient’s really understand what you are telling them? When they sign consent forms are they really making an informed decision? The answer would surprise you and the end result will astonish you.

Several health literacy publications have found that nearly half of all American adult patients – approximately 90 million individuals – have difficulty understanding; let alone using even the most basic health information.

Patients with limited health literacy skills can be found strewn throughout the United States. Even states filled to the max with affluent residents have noticed this very concerning trend occurring more often than they would like.

While various definitions of health literacy exist – just google ‘health literacy definition’ and more than 2,490,000 results will show up – the most widely accepted definition comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; which is:

“The degree as to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand even the most basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.”

The end result? Poor health literacy skills often result in more patients using the emergency room and becoming hospitalized. A lack of understanding can additionally result in patients being misdiagnosed or using prescription medications improperly.

Eliminating the medical jargon, at least with your patients, can both improve medical treatment as well as reduce the frequency of unnecessary return and emergency department visits.

However, improving your patient’s medical understanding doesn’t stop there. Medical facilities should also make a conscious decision to improve their own communication practices in order to enhance patient/physician relationships.

Taking the time to understand that each of your patients is unique and that each learns in different ways is imperative. One approach that helps benefit all involved is directly asking your patients which learning method work best for them.

Some people may learn better through visualization; while others may learn better through verbal communications; while others learn best through a hands-on approach. The correct method can greatly enhance communications and decrease frustrations.

No matter which communication approach you decide to implement within your practice, there are two caveats worth mentioning: Don’t leave out important information and don’t forget to show compassion.

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