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5 essential steps to gauging your organization’s health literacy skills

By Signify Health Team on 10/12/23 10:29 AM

October is Health Literacy Month, which was established to highlight health literacy's vital role in improving patient care outcomes. In a recent whitepaper, Signify Health’s Chief Medical Officer, Value-based Care, Ashok Roy, MD, MPH, MBA, acknowledged the importance of health literacy and the fact that nine out of 10 American adults lack the skills required to effectively manage their health and prevent disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health literacy is divided into two categories: personal health literacy and organizational health literacy. The recent addition of organizational health literacy indicates the crucial role healthcare providers play in their patients' health literacy levels. Patient health literacy is tied to the provider’s health literacy skill sets. Improving patient health literacy rates begins with training and educating healthcare professionals.

Below are five essential steps to gauge your organization's health literacy skills.

1.    Clinicians must be able to incorporate health literacy into standard clinical care with rapid, easy-to-use tools. A team-based approach to healthcare, where all care team members actively engage in care coordination, is fundamental to identifying and addressing patients' needs, forming the foundation of organizational health literacy.

2.    Engaging in active dialogue with patients, including asking patients to repeat what they’ve just heard their clinician say, can help measure comprehension and understanding.

3.    Employing the Health Literacy Universal Precautions, which assumes that every patient may have difficulty comprehending health information and accessing health services, has proven to be effective at improving health literacy.

4.   The entire care team can benefit from implementing the four domains of health literacy skill sets, which emphasize steps to (1) improve spoken communication, (2) improve written communication, (3) improve self-management and empowerment, and (4) improve supportive systems.

5.   Formal and informal methods of assessing health literacy can be used to improve patients’ health literacy, including health literacy assessments (formal) and proactively asking a patient if they need help completing a form (informal).

Improving patients’ health literacy requires clinicians and care teams to collaborate and effectively communicate with their patients. Assessing health literacy is not enough to improve a patient’s understanding and comprehension, but with training and education, healthcare professionals can rely on new skill sets and resources to help address and improve patients’ health literacy.

As our nation continues to increase in population and diversity, healthcare providers must take appropriate steps to ensure their patients understand the conversation about their health and healthcare and play an active role in their health. For more information, download 'Addressing Health Literacy to Improve Patient Care Outcomes' here.