(From the April 2013 Issue of MedStat)
In 2004, the Institute of Medicine published Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion. The report highlighted the fact that “nearly half of all American adults — 90 million people — have difficulty understanding and using health information, and that there is a higher rate of hospitalization and use of emergency services among patients with limited health literacy.” The economic impact is estimated to be billions of dollars in avoidable health care costs. In fact, the National Patient Safety Foundation reports that “the annual health care costs for individuals with low literacy skills are 4 times higher than those with higher literacy skills.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines health literacy as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” Patients and/or parents who do not understand the basic health care instructions are at risk of being non-compliant with a health care provider’s treatment, medication instructions or preventive medicine instructions. The Institute of Medicine report further points out that health literacy entails more than the ability to read. In fact, health literacy is a complex group of reading, listening, analytical and decision-making skills. For example, the patient must be able to understand the instructions for taking medications, appointments, scheduled tests and patient education materials. The inability to do so can result in potentially harmful or even life-threatening mistakes.
The United States’ increasingly multicultural population presents new barriers and challenges to providing the patient and family with needed education that is essential to promote and achieve optimal health outcomes. The National Patient Safety Foundation also reports that, according to the Center for Health Care Strategies, a disproportionate number of minorities and immigrants are estimated to have literacy problems that affect “approximately 50 percent of Hispanics, 40 percent of Blacks and 33 percent of Asians.”
The following risk management information is from the National Patient Safety Foundation and from CNA, a medical malpractice insurance carrier.
For more information, contact Carol.McGlone@NationwideChildrens.org from Legal Services.
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