Patient Health Literacy Is Hard to Assess
Unfortunately, it’s hard for healthcare professionals to assess their patients’ health literacy. Moreover, healthcare professionals may overestimate their patients’ health literacy skills. For instance, a study looked at nurses who misjudged their patient’s level of health literacy. It found that nurses who overestimated health literacy skills outnumbered those who underestimated health literacy skills by a margin of six to one. There was also some indication that health literacy did not correlate with education levels. Considering these results, it might be wise to explore whether similar problems exist in the other healthcare professions.
Our Task as OT Practitioners
According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, OT practitioners have a strong role to play in helping our patients to both improve their personal health literacy, as well as overcome barriers caused or exacerbated by low health literacy. We know that as we provide therapeutic interventions that assist our patients in becoming more independent, safe, and satisfied with their daily function, we must do everything we can to improve their personal health literacy. In the words of Healthy People 2030, we must ensure that they can effectively “…find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.” [para. 4],
Similarly, as healthcare professionals, we are called to improve our organizational health literacy. In other words, we must “equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.” [para 5]  This includes using health literate approaches, such as creating materials and using communication strategies that enhance our patients’ abilities to participate in health-related activities. The result is the nurturing of a more health-literate society.,
The OT focus on work, play, and activities of daily living (ADLs) is inherently connected with the facilitation of a health literate society. This greatly benefits our individual patients, as well as the over-burdened healthcare system as a whole. As we work with our patients (whether in-home care, outpatient, inpatient rehab, etc.), we must be always cognizant of their current level of health literacy. Furthermore, we must continue to explore with our colleagues and employers how we can improve organizational health literacy.
Additional Resources to Check Out
About the Author
Barbara Fahmy is sole proprietor of ClearLight Writing and Editing Services, LLC. She uses her training as an OT and public administrator to create white papers, blogs, and other articles that enhance knowledge and create awareness on pharmaceuticals, mental health, patient-centered healthcare, and state and federal regulations. In addition, she serves on IHA’s Health Literacy Solutions Advisory Panel.