Low Health Literacy Linked to Mortality in CHF Patients

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media , April 28, 2011

Once they've identified a patient with low health literacy, clinicians should be sure to use "teach-back" techniques, "to ensure the patient can restate what you want them to understand. You have to reinforce education over time, and continuously check for understanding. But we as clinicians aren't always taught that, or know that at a system level, we should put in place frequent structured follow-ups or check-ins."

With patients found to have low health literacy, clinicians need to be cautious, as well. "It's sensitive topic. You don't want people to be labeled that they're not smart. Just asking someone 'do you know what this means?' can make people feel insecure and points out their deficiencies. You don't want to make people feel bad."

"Assessment of health literacy should be performed with care and sensitivity, because the social implications of identifying a patient as being of low health literacy could be counterproductive," they wrote.

Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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