Health Literacy

Report: ‘Health Illiteracy’ Epidemic

Washington - Nearly half of American adults have trouble understanding medical terms and directions.   ~ Newsday, April 2004

Rx for Low Health Literacy

What Is Health Literacy?
Health literacy is the ability to understand oral and printed health-related information and, subsequently, to act on that information to effect improved health outcomes. It has been found that low-literate individuals do not have the language skills necessary to adequately understand oral and printed health-related information or to act on that information as it is typically presented.

How Is Literacy Suffolk, Inc. Advancing Health Literacy?
A community-based agency, Literacy Suffolk has at the core of its mission the advancement of adult literacy through the use of trained volunteers to tutor low-literate adults. Several years ago, we decided to extend our mission into the health care field - where we know from medical and anecdotal research that low-literate individuals experience poorer health outcomes, may overutilize health care services as a result of inadequate self-care, and may have greater frequency of hospitalization.

The challenge: how to help the greatest number of adults with the limited resources we have.
The solution: target concerned grantmakers to fund our health literacy work, collaborate with medical professionals, evaluate communication between health care providers and low-literate patients, and develop plain-language tools to facilitate communication between health care providers and patients.

What Is “Plain Language”?
It is the language used and understood by most people in everyday life. For instance, “something causing cancer” is plain language for “carcinogen,” and “heart attack” can be used instead of “coronary thrombosis.”

What Is the Literacy Suffolk Adult Health Literacy Tool Kit?

It is a kit that comprises samples of plain language tools currently available to facilitate communication between health care providers and low-literate patients.

How Can I Purchase the Adult Health Literacy Tool Kit(s)?
Unfortunately, the kits are not available for purchase at this time.

  The “Adult Health Literacy Tool Kit” is part of an ongoing health literacy program initiated by Literacy Suffolk, Inc. and the Stony Brook University School of Medicine. The kit is made possible through a grant from the Long Island Community Foundation.

Click the thumbnails (below) to view a larger image of the tools. Click the blue, underlined titles to view a PDF of that item. (To download Adobe Reader, click the “Get Adobe Reader” icon at page bottom.)

A Health Center Handbook: What You Need to Know About Your Health Center (5-page sample PDF)

Prototype of a take-home patient handbook to facilitate patient comprehension of such basics as intake procedures; facility and system navigation; preparedness for visits; prescription and self-care information; payment options; hours of operation; important phone numbers; center services; patient rights and responsibilities. (Illustrated / English and Spanish).

A Prenatal Care Handbook: What You Must Know Before Your Baby Is Born (5-page sample PDF)

Prototype of a take-home patient handbook that welcomes, prepares, and educates soon-to-be mothers. Among the topics: what will transpire during the patient’s first, second, and subsequent visits to the health center; a chronology of how the baby grows; a chronology of tests the patient will have; what to do to stay healthy during pregnancy; what to do to have a healthy baby; danger signs and when to call the center right away; hours of operation; important phone numbers; patient rights and responsibilities. (Color, with photographs).

Baby Vaccines: Protect Your Baby Against Serious Illness!

Miniature sample of a 30” x 46” wall poster that states the necessary baby vaccines, the diseases they can prevent, when babies should have certain vaccines, along with answers to such critical questions as: What should you ask for after a vaccination? What should you do if your baby misses a vaccination? Why stay at the center after a vaccination? How long should you stay? (Illustrated / color / English and Spanish)

Health Center Signage

Miniature samples of color-coded, bilingual signs, with appropriate /img and directionals, for posting in waiting rooms and near medical offices. Purpose: to facilitate patient comprehension, comfort level, and health center navigation.

Medical Translator (English-Spanish)

A two-sided, laminated flier (shown here single-sided to provide content sample) to facilitate communication between health care providers and Hispanic patients who do not yet understand English. For instance, alongside the English-language ?Do you have trouble sleeping?? is the Spanish translation ?¿Tiene problemas durmiendo?? and alongside ?I?m going to start an I.V.? is ?Voy a empezar una inyección suero.?

Plain Language Medical Thesaurus

A two-sided, laminated flier (shown here single-sided to provide content sample) for health care providers that gives plain language “translations” of medical terms. For instance: “something that causes a bad reaction” can substitute for “allergen” or “something that heals or makes you feel better” for “therapeutic.”

What You Must Know About Your Medicine

A tear-off pad of illustrated one-page forms that help ensure medication compliance by the patient. A “teach back” tool used by the prescribing physician, who also demonstrates dosing procedure, to help ensure that the patient understands when, how often, and how to take his or her medication. Patients take completed forms home.

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