First, thanks to all of the contributors for a truly amazing month of thoughts and insights. From Gary Schwitzer’s excellent piece on the challenges of reporting on and reading about medical information in the news, to Helen Osborne and Diana Dilger’s view of challenges from the patient side, to Cynthia Baur and Cindy Brach’s information on AHRQ’s Health Literacy Toolkit and the CDC’s National Action Plan, to asking how health professionals learn about health literacy, there’s a lot of great insights and growing number of resources.
Themes this year:
While a nod is an easy thing to elicit when asking a patient “do you understand?”— it’s not enough. Even the patient may not realize when they don’t understand something. And a return demonstration or explanation is often the only way to find out. Even then, it’s essential to point out when something we’re using is just a prop – after all, stories of people injecting insulin into oranges and then eating the orange instead of injecting themselves are mainly a sign that we’re not being clear at every step.
The teach-back method also gives practitioners and educators an opportunity to work with people until they feel sure the new skill or information is understood. And while teach-back may sound time consuming, it usually takes a matter of minutes. So in the long run, it’s clearly a time-saving, and even life-saving intervention. And as Matt Wynia and Andrew Jager pointed out, everyone, even the most educated among us learn better and feel less stress when time is taken to explain things simply. So teach-back should be a universal precaution that’s offered to everyone.
Get Real Feedback From Real People
Tools to assess the reading grade level of a document can provide a basic indication that patient materials are too complex. However, these tools are just starting points. And a low reading grade level score does not ensure the information is understandable and actionable. As Dr. Rima Rudd pointed out, interacting with the intended audience is the only way to ensure something is easy to use and easy to understand. This message was echoed over and over again at the Society of Medical Decision Making conference in Chicago last week. Even some of the best intentioned and well-thought out interventions can produce unexpected results.
Don’t Underestimate the Power of Social Interaction
In the world of the 10-15 minute doctor visit, spending a couple of minutes to do a personalized intervention like teach-back also builds trust, helps people gain confidence, and feel cared for – all non-trivial effects of a short interaction.
Our New Short Series Starts Tomorrow
In fact, starting tomorrow, we’ll be hosting a short series to look at another emerging form of social interaction that seems to be getting great results: shared or group medical appointments. When I first heard about this, I was skeptical. I mean, how does it even work? But patients seem to love it, learn a lot, and it can even end up serving as an unofficial support group. And for people who are overwhelmed by a new chronic condition or fatigued from living with one, getting encouragement and insight from their peers offers a meaningful dimension to their care.
To get a sense of it, take a look at these videos about shared medical appointments, and watch for more on the blog tomorrow.
About Health Literacy Month Series Host Geri Baumblatt
As Editorial Director of Emmi Solutions, Geri looks at healthcare from the patient’s perspective. She helps patients understand complicated medical information so they can take safer, more active roles in their care. Her work includes numerous awards for innovation in patient communication– including the 2007 IHA Health Literacy Award. Geri is also the Engaging the Patient podcast host.