Why is health literacy fundamental in home health?

There is a lot of information being written related to Health Literacy.  Has your agency formally addressed the issues at a management and clinician level?  How effective is the patient education that clinicians are spending valuable time and resources, if the health literacy level of patient is unknown?  Can patient self-management and disease management be successful without assessing and addressing health literacy issues?


Approximately 88% of the U.S. population has health literacy issues!  A person’s education level does not even matter, because even college graduates can be overwhelmed with the healthcare systems, information, choices, etc.

Reading and studying health literacy is essential in improving care to the health disparate population, but until we put ourselves in the shoes of people with health literacy issues, we really don’t understand.  Several ways to improve our assessment skills include:

  • Listening and observing patients for signs of health literacy issues and knowing who is at a high risk (UP BPIP, p. 40)
  • Read two scenarios about Navigating Healthcare Systems from the perspective of a person with health literacy issues
  • Watch a short AMA video (5 minutes) on several different people with health literacy issues and how it affects their lives.  Additional great videos listed and linked in UP BPIP (p.  44) – perfect to gain insight and share at staff meetings.


There are several free Health Literacy Assessment tools included in the UP BPIP (pp. 41 – 42) with scoring guides. 


How health literate is your patient education tools?  What education grade level are they?  Do they use medical jargon or plain language?

  • Readability Level information to determine grade level of written patient education materials and Simple Plain Language information (UP BPIP, p. 46)

What health literacy strategies and education does your clinical staff use?

  • Teach-Back is a clinician feed-back technique to ensure that message sent was received, if not, the clinician needs to modify the teaching method (UP BPIP, pp. 44 – 46)
    • Extra resources including videos are listed on table (UP BPIP, p. 45)
    • Ask Me 3TM  (UP BPIP, p. 43)
      • Use 3 simple questions during every visit to prioritize key issues
      • Additional Toolkits and Resources (UP BPIP, pp. 43 – 44)

Health Literacy is not just a onetime action plan or improvement process, it has to be a continuous process.  It is our responsibility as healthcare providers to adapt and modify to meet the needs of all patients, especially those that have health disparities or are underserved for any reason.

Misty Kevech, RN Project Coordinator

HHQI National Campaign

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