Overcoming Low Health Literacy: Practical Approaches for Providing Quality Care

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<p>Low health literacy is pervasive in the United States, particularly among older adults and people with limited education or English proficiency. Patients with low health literacy are at greater risk of misunderstanding treatment recommendations, taking prescription medications improperly, and experiencing lower health status and poorer health outcomes.<br><br>But according to a new Commonwealth Fund report, there are a number of practical steps that health care providers can take to combat the problem. In <a href="/publications/fund-reports/2008/jan/health-literacy-practices-in-primary-care-settings--examples-from-the-field
">Health Literacy Practices in Primary Care Settings: Examples from the Field</a>, Sharon E. Barrett, M.S., Jennifer Sheen Puryear, M.P.H., and Kathie Westpheling, M.P.H., identified practices used by health care providers across the U.S. to improve care for patients with low health literacy, including:<table border="0" cellpadding="3" cellspacing="0"><tr><td><tr><td> </td></tr><tr><td class="first"><ul><li>Making all members of the care team, from reception area to checkout, responsible for identifying patients who are challenged by health literacy issues;</li><li>Using standardized communication tools, including Teach Back, Ask Me 3, or Motivational Interviewing;</li><li>Using plain language, face-to-face communication, pictorials, and patient education materials that are culturally appropriate and written at a suitable literacy level;</li><li>Partnering with patients to achieve goals and ensure that patients understand and can manage their treatment plans; and</li><li>Creating a care management environment where health literacy is not assumed.</li></ul></td></tr></table>As the report shows, by joining forces with their patients, providers can overcome health literacy barriers and help ensure the delivery of high-quality, patient-centered care.</p>