Health Literacy Tools and Strategies for Patients
By Anita Jean
Literacy can be described as the ability to read and write. There are different types of literacy. For example, food literacy is the skills and ability to prepare nutritious foods, ranging from reheating food to following recipes. Financial literacy is the ability to understand and make informed choices about personal finances. Health literacy is more complex. In addition to the ability to read and write, it includes the ability to process and understand health information, and the actions you need to take for good health.
The basic health literacy scale has 5 levels:
- Level 1: it is difficult for you to figure out the dosage of medication based on age and weight
- Level 2: you understand clear and simple instructions
- Level 3: you understand at a level similar to high school and college graduates
- Levels 4 & 5: you understand complex health information and what you need to do to achieve good health
Health Quality Ontario identifies three skills to promote health literacy: being able to read and write; being able to understand numbers; and being able to ask questions and express yourself.
A person with high health literacy will read information and be able to understand what is needed to keep them healthy. While someone with low health literacy may have difficulty doing so. In the case of a prescribed medication, a person with high health literacy would comprehend how to take their prescribed medication correctly, where a patient with low literacy may take the wrong dose at the incorrect time. Another example is Diabetic problem solving and modifying insulin dosing based upon readings. This task could be a challenge for someone with low literacy skills.
There is an educational program called “Ask Me 3” that patients can use to better understand their health condition and what they need to do to be healthy. The program suggests that patients ask their health care providers these questions during their appointment:
- What is my main problem?
- Why is it important for me to do this?
2.What do I need to do?
Patients are encouraged to ask their healthcare provider for clarification. Healthcare providers want to provide the information in a way that their patients can understand. Patients are then more likely to take proper actions for their health.
The Ask Me 3 program features a printable four page patient booklet. Suggestions in the booklet include:
- Asking the three questions.
- Writing down suggestions made by the health care provider to improve their health so that these are not forgotten.
Bringing someone to their appointments to help them.
Preparing other questions they may have.
Bringing a list of medications they are taking to their appointment.
When it comes to medication, “Safe To Ask”, a Canadian patient education program adapted from Ask Me 3, recommends asking your pharmacist or health care provider the following five questions:
- Where any changes made to the medication.
- What follow up is necessary.
2.Which medication they need to continue and the reason why.
3.How to take this medication.
4.What are side effects to watch for or signs the medication is working.
As a patient, you may wish to repeat the instructions back to your health care provider to ensure you have understood the information they have provided you. It is usually a good idea to bring a notepad with the written questions you want to ask your health care provider, and to make note of their answers.
Anita Jean is the Manager of Health and Social Programs at the NorWest Community Health Centres.
Feel Better, Live Longer, Be Happier