Improving provider-to-patient communication by understanding and addressing health literacy barriers
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Low health literacy creates barriers that affect communication between health care professionals and patients or family members. Because of these barriers, patients may lack the ability to acquire or receive health-related information, understand the information, and utilize it for making decisions. This affects patients’ abilities to navigate the health care system, and impacts patient care and outcomes. Much research and emphasis in recent years has been placed on health literacy, particularly since it has been the topic of study by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the focus of the Joint Commission’s National Patient Safety Goals. Health literacy tools and education about methods to improve communication and understanding have been developed for health care providers and allied health staff. While these have proved beneficial, they are not “one size fits all” solutions. Through the recognition that health literacy is an issue that in a broader sense impacts communities and population health efforts, the problem is now being viewed by some researchers as being intertwined with cultural and socio-economic barriers that negatively impact patients and health care equity. This awareness could spur solutions to overcome these barriers. Along with this awareness, the support of leadership of health care systems is needed in viewing health literacy as integral to higher standards of patient access and care.