Use the phrase “health literacy,” and heads will nod in recognition. But what’s likely to follow is a flurry of questions similar to this one: 'How can something so ambitious and aspirational be translated into real life activities that impact quality and safety?’
For starters, researchers have found, boosting the effectiveness of providers’ communication with patients is best approached as a systems-focused, rather than individual-focused, effort.
“Health literacy practices really need to be built into the system,” said Cindy Brach, MPP, a senior health care researcher at the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) who recently studied many different health care organizations’ approaches to translating health literacy theory into action. “It’s a team effort, from leadership at the top to champions at every level” of the practice or hospital, she noted.
Jennifer Pearce, whose advocacy stems from her own experiences navigating the health care system since she was diagnosed with lupus in her 20s, agreed. “We need to shift the burden of communication off the patient and onto the health care system.”
Shifting payment models favor health literacy work
Pearce and Brach were among dozens of contributors to a roundtable discussion, organized by the National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine in Washington, D.C. last week, to describe the current state of health literacy in the U.S. and discuss ways to make the health care system more responsive to patients’ needs for information about their medical care.