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Improving Organizational Health Literacy

October is Health Literacy Month

By: Ellen Bloom, Patient Education Manager
Indiana Hemophilia & Thrombosis Center

When we think of health literacy, we often think of personal health literacy—a person’s ability to obtain, understand, and act on health information—but in fact, organizational health literacy plays a crucial role in the health of communities.

An organization’s commitment to providing information and services in a way that is accessible, understandable, and actionable can make an enormous difference in a patient’s health. While becoming a health literate organization is a large undertaking, there are many smaller steps that providers can take to make real changes in their interactions with patients and families. 

  • Explain health information using words that are easy to understand.
    • For example, talk about high blood pressure, not hypertension. If you do need to use difficult words, jargon, or acronyms, make sure you explain these terms using everyday language. 
  • Be clear about health information and health directives.
    • Use the active (conversational) voice when providing instructions or health information to patients and families. For example, say, “You’ll need to stop by the lab for a blood test,” rather than “A blood test will be needed.” Being clear with directives makes them easier to understand and follow. 
  • Encourage communication by asking open-ended questions.
    • Ask “What questions do you have?” rather than “Do you have any questions?”
  • Think about what happens when a patient walks into your clinic.
    • Are the signs they see, the forms they have to fill out, and the procedures they have to follow simple and easy to understand? If not, what can you do to simplify processes as much as possible for your patients? 

Want to learn more about communicating clearly using plain language? Check out the CDC’s website on health literacy

Ellen Bloom is the Patient Education Manager at the Indiana Hemophilia & Thrombosis Center in Indianapolis. Ellen works with healthcare professionals to ensure all patient-facing communications are easily understood and help patients achieve better understanding of their medical condition(s) and health management strategies.

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