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Feature: Improving Patient Safety by Improving Health Literacy Transparency

Army Lt. Col. Owen Johnson III, a plastic surgeon at William Beaumont Army Medical Center at Fort Bliss, Texas, is seated while he discusses options available for reconstructive surgery with a female patient. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army by Marcy Sanchez) Army Lt. Col. Owen Johnson III, a plastic surgeon at William Beaumont Army Medical Center at Fort Bliss, Texas, is seated while he discusses options available for reconstructive surgery with a female patient. (U.S. Army photo by Marcy Sanchez)

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When a patient doesn’t have the knowledge, skills or understanding to care for themselves after discharge or take medication as prescribed, it can become a patient safety issue. October is Health Literacy Month and offers healthcare organizations an opportunity to simplify basic health information for patients and their families, so they can make informed decisions and be effective healthcare team members. Increased transparency, a focal area of the Military Health System’s journey towards high reliability, is helping to improve health literacy across the MHS.

MHS patients and their families, and the public have access to information about how each military treatment facility is performing. Information on quality, safety and patient satisfaction are easily accessible on the MHS web site. With a search of a ZIP code or facility name, beneficiaries can view and compare up to three facilities at one time.

“This data provides beneficiaries more awareness about the quality and safety of the care at military treatment facilities across the MHS,” said Dr. Jill Sterling, co-chair of the MHS Transparency Initiative Group. “By making this information readily available, we are empowering patients and their families to have an open dialogue with providers about the healthcare team’s strengths and areas for improvement.”

MHS beneficiaries are encouraged to ask their healthcare professionals if they have questions about this performance data.

“To truly become a learning organization, beneficiaries need to know how well we are performing. The MHS in turn learns how we are performing from the beneficiary’s perspective through completed patient surveys.” Sterling explained.

In addition to increasing awareness of local facility’s performance, patients who actively engage with healthcare providers during their medical visits can improve their overall health literacy.

Tips for Patients

  1. Choose to be an active member in your healthcare team.
  2. Ask a friend or family member to accompany you to your doctor or hospital visits to help listen and ask questions.
  3. Communicate openly and honestly with your provider and let them know what vitamins and medications you are taking.
  4. Tell your provider if something has changed in your health since your last visit.
  5. Don’t hesitate to ask questions when you see your nurse, doctor, pharmacist or other healthcare professional.
  6. Ask providers to repeat or further explain when something doesn’t make sense or makes you feel uncomfortable.
  7. Ask questions about why you’re being prescribed a certain medication or test.
  8. Speak up and share your feelings and concerns with your provider. Tell them what treatment option you feel most comfortable with and why.
  9. Repeat back what you understand.
  10. Take notes! Write down names and roles of your healthcare team and key elements of your treatment plan.

 

MHS healthcare professionals have an opportunity to improve a patient’s health literacy by incorporating certain habits into their daily practice.

Tips for Healthcare Professionals

  1. Make yourself approachable; show compassion, listen and build trust.
  2. Engage patients as equal partners.
  3. Speak slowly and respectfully when providing instructions.
  4. Use simple language – avoid medical terminology and jargon.
  5. When prescribing medication, explain what it is for and why they need to take it, in addition to explaining how to take it.
  6. When prescribing tests, explain what they are for and when results are back, explain what it means.
  7. When possible, use graphics and pictures instead of written instructions.
  8. Ask open-ended questions and take the time to understand what matters to the patient.
  9. Ask the patient to repeat back what they understand or demonstrate how to do a certain task.
  10. Give patients an opportunity to ask questions.

 

MTFs are encouraged to share their health literacy success stories with the DoD Patient Safety Program. E-mail us at DHA.patientsafety@mail.mil.

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