What Is Health Literacy and Why Does It Matter

What Is Health Literacy and Why Does It Matter

As primary care physicians (PCPs), our jobs can be made easier or harder depending on several factors. Key among them is the “health literacy” level of the patient. By this, we refer to the patient’s ability to understand medical information transmitted to them. It could be information related to their medical condition, symptoms, treatments, medicine recommendations, bad habits, and so on.

Primary Medical Care Center is dedicated to improving the health literacy of our patients in an attempt to provide superior care services. In our experience, the more health literacy a patient has, the better they respond to treatments. That’s because there’s no communicational breakdown between our doctors and the patients.

For additional information, call us at (305) 751-1500 or use our online contact form to schedule an appointment!

How Does Health Literacy Differ Among Patients?

We’ve found that older patients tend to be less able to assimilate health information than younger patients. Since younger patients tend to be more acquainted with technology, they respond better to our explanations and the medical information we provide. However, they are also liable to do research before an appointment, which may lead to medical misinformation that we need to confirm or correct.

Older patients tend to be less acquainted with technology and are far more likely to suffer from cognitive issues. As such, they may not be able to understand basic health information or recommendations that our doctors make. Their health literacy levels suffer a sharp drop in these cases, which causes a communicational breakdown between the doctor and the patient.

The complexity of the medical information provided and the form that it’s provided also influences the impact on the patient’s literacy level. We recommend using laymen’s terms and keeping the explanations as simple as possible so as not to “overload” the patient with too much information.

How Can We Improve Our Patients’ Health Literacy?

A patient’s health literacy isn’t immutable. It can be improved using certain techniques that we, at Primary Medical Care Center, use all the time:

  • Technology as a supplementary explanatory tool

First off, we use technology whenever possible to supplement verbal instructions and explanations. For instance, we may show a patient an instructional video on how to measure their heart rate or blood sugar level. Or we may show pictures of various symptoms of a particular illness, to help them recognize these symptoms preemptively in their bodies.

Even with older patients, technology, if used in the right way, can have wonderful results. It’s much better to see something than to try and comprehend it from words, in almost all cases. This is a form of information simplification that we couldn’t achieve with words alone. In our experience, technology has helped us achieve a deeper doctor-patient relationship with our patients!

  • Common-use analogies to put things into perspective

We also like to use analogies to explain certain medical phenomena and help the patient understand them better. Dumbing things down shouldn’t be seen as insulting when it can save someone’s life and raise their awareness about their health. As doctors, we should expect that our patients may not understand the information we transmit to them.

For instance, we may make an analogy between the way blood vessels and water pipes in a house function. If too much water goes through the pipes, the pressure could lead to bursts in the pipe. And the same happens with blood vessels when the blood flows at high pressures.

  • Communicate with the patient’s family members

The patient’s family members are the most important people in the patient’s life. It’s also in their best interest that the patient gets better. If we believe a patient’s health literacy is low, we may invite their family member to keep our instructions in mind. When at home, the patient may receive help from a knowledgeable family member, leading up to better overall medical results.

We also make sure that the patient adheres to the medication and treatment regimen we prescribe. Our team has practiced this technique with many of our patients, and it turned out to be highly efficient even with low health literacy patients.

Transformative Primary Care and Its Benefits

Increasing health literacy takes time and effort, a lot more than what regular primary care services can provide. Primary Medical Care Center has developed a form of Transformative Primary Care where the patient can see our physicians as many times as they want, and for as long as they want.

We encourage our patients to drop by whenever they have questions or anxieties about their health status. Our physicians also take into account social determinants of health like housing, food, and transportation, all of which can impede a patient’s health literacy and ability to follow our care plans.

All our centers are in permanent contact with social workers and community partners that may help with any of these aspects. For more information, you can call us at (305) 751-1500 or use our online contact form to schedule an appointment!