With telehealth extending access to health care in rural areas, health care providers are presented with a unique opportunity to utilize this far-reaching technology as a way to improve health outcomes in populations with low health literacy, while simultaneously improving health literacy itself.
What is Health Literacy?
Health literacy is one of the most important aspects of patient care that is often overlooked. The ability for patients to evaluate, communicate, and use information about their condition(s) or overall well-being, health literacy skills help make complex health information easier to understand.
In short, health literacy is the ability to understand what a doctor – or other health care professional – is communicating, whether it is face-to-face, online, or within a pamphlet.
Per the 2003 National Adult Literacy Survey, about 36% of Americans possess basic or below basic literacy skills. Patients with low income, lacking in education, the elderly, and people in poor health have the lowest health literacy.
Oftentimes, these patients don’t possess the ability to successfully read and comprehend, they also lack the ability to act on medical information and interact with the health care system. This can lead to poor health outcomes in patients with health literacy challenges.
Understanding the Impact of Health Literacy
Good health literacy is important because it helps keep a patient aware of what preventative health services are available to them. It provides patients with the knowledge and understanding that recovering from a disease will not always prevent it from returning. The information can also help with self-care and health maintenance.
Strong health literacy also helps with finding doctors, filling out and understanding the paperwork, and exploring insurance options.
Improving health literacy helps to determine patients’ health conditions, and allows them to seek the proper health care needed. With the assistance of telehealth services, patients can get positive clinical outcomes from their primary care physicians, specialists, and even hospital-in-home services in real-time without the need for in-person visits.
Once a patient has tapped into that resource, it becomes easier to have their health care questions answered for their specific needs. Patients can gain a better understanding of what services are available to them, and be able to make informed decisions about which ones are suited for their needs, simultaneously improving continuity of care.
Screening programs are also important preventative services. Lacking health literacy may keep a patient unaware of services like mammograms, Pap smears, high-blood pressure check-ups, as well as blood screenings and cholesterol tests.
Telehealth aims to improve healthcare by reducing the need to travel to a doctor’s office and providing distant clinical support, easing the impact on those patients who lack reliable transportation. Databases have been created to easily access medical information, records, and even healthcare grading information for patients to find the best doctors and practitioners for their specific needs.
Some of the most important outcomes of telemedicine include remote patient monitoring, asthma management, heart monitoring, cancer care, behavioral healthcare, COVID-19 monitoring, and continued monitoring and care of chronic conditions like CHF, COPD, diabetes, and more.
Strategies for Improving Health Literacy and Health Outcomes
Every patient has a unique situation. There is a small percentage of Americans who have strong health literacy (about 10-12%). The remaining percent of Americans most likely lack the skills to manage their health. Fortunately, there are many ways of increasing health literacy.
Accessibility options like phones and web browsers that will read all or selected text aloud to the user, as well as online videos, charts, and interactive surveys have made it possible for individuals with low literacy to receive and comprehend the information they otherwise might not.
It is this technology that will ultimately enable telehealth to have a positive impact on health literacy and patient outcomes, by making information more accessible and understandable to patients previously unable to comprehend these complexities.
Ensuring that patients understand what is explained about their medical condition is crucial to a positive health outcome. In addition to utilizing technology, doctors can simplify what is being explained by using plain language and speaking at a pace that patients can comprehend. The jargon used by medical experts may not fit well with some patients.
Graphics, flyers, pamphlets, and videos are excellent options for explaining things in a simple way.
There are other strategies for improving patient health literacy.
- Utilizing visual aids can help a patient relate to what is being described. For example, images, illustrations, videos, graphs, and other visual tools that illustrate what the doctor is specifying.
- Asking the patient to repeat what was said is a way to gauge that they can make sense of what the doctor described to them.
- Instructing patients on the technology available and showing them how to use it has also proven a successful method of making telehealth communication available. Many healthcare companies have created digests or guides to better explain health literacy.
Improving Outcomes & Future Telehealth Needs
Telemedicine services, like remote patient monitoring devices, remote triage, patient engagement and communication platforms, and hospital-in-home services have made it easier for people unable to travel long distances to hospitals or specialists to receive the necessary healthcare and resources they need.
Telehealth gives patients access to healthcare professionals and distributes health-related information via telecommunication. It is important for a patient to educate themselves on the benefits of using telehealth.
Through these remote telehealth services, a patient can easily contact a doctor or health provider remotely to get information by way of a virtual visit. The process is open to many methods of communication including email, conference call, video chat, or remote patient monitoring.
There are even phone apps that give patients access to their mental health provider, dental health specialist, or clinical health care provider.
With the limitations that COVID-19 has created for accessibility, many medical facilities have adopted new ways of communicating with patients, including patient engagement platforms that utilize telehealth for health outcomes. These adaptations have proven to be beneficial for the future, and many health care providers can expect a higher demand for more remote healthcare services.
Health Literacy for Health Care Professionals
In today’s digital world, there is an even greater need for health care specialists to be able to provide competent health care knowledge to their patients. According to a study conducted in 2011 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, improving health literacy in patients by healthcare professionals was a top priority of the medical industry. Some experts felt that it was a low priority to develop communication methods for their patients. However, overlooking the need to improve health literacy can have a negative impact on health outcomes for some patients.
The U.S. Institute of Medicine has recommended that medical professionals continuing medical educational studies should incorporate health literacy into their curriculum.
Health Literacy Solutions and Health Outcomes
Poor health in patients is often associated with low health literacy. Health literacy is a preventative tool and beneficial for ongoing care. Strategies to improve communication must move toward fact-based health literacy and medical practitioners should be aware of the tools available to implement this information with their patients.
Telemedicine presents an excellent opportunity for physicians to help improve health literacy and outcomes in patients with low income, lacking in education, older people, and people in poor health. By improving accessibility and health literacy through telehealth services, health care professionals can help improve the quality and safety of health care for millions of patients across the country.
To learn more about Trapollo’s innovative connected health and telehealth solutions, connect with us here.