Low literacy materials, communication help all consumers understand health care information, regardless of reading level

Presentation at American Heart Association 2011 Scientific Sessions featured "Clinical Strategies to Reduce Disparities"

ORLANDO, Fla. - A new session at the American Heart Association 2011 Scientific Sessions addressed the prevalence of patients with low health literacy and strategies to reduce disparities in health care understanding.

The session on Tuesday, November 15 at 7:30 a.m. EST presented by 

  • Nancy Houston Miller, RN, BSN, FAHA, FPCNA, Associate Director of the Stanford Cardiac Rehabilitation Program and adjunct clinical assistant professor at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) School of Nursing and the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing
  • Suzanne Hughes, RN, MSN, FAHA, FPCNA, Clinical Education Project Director at the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association
  • Nancy Artinian, PhD, RN, FAHA, FPCNA, FAAN Associate Dean for Research and Director, Center for Health Research Professor Wayne State University

focused on planning culturally appropriate cardiac care, effective strategies for communicating with patients with low literacy and practical tips for developing low literacy patient education materials. 

Low health literacy has a significant impact on health care and patients, as the patient's role in health care is increasingly important to the successful long-term management of chronic diseases. According to a report by the National Patient Safety Foundation:

  • Annual health care costs for individuals with low literacy skills are four times higher than those with higher literacy skills. 
  • Only about 50% of all patients take medications as directed, because of problems with patient compliance and medical errors due to poor understanding of health care information
  • Most health care materials are written above the 10th grade level, however one of four American adults reads at a fifth grade level or below, and the average American is at only an 8th or 9th grade level.
  • Low health literacy increases the lack of health care access to vulnerable populations, such as ethnic minorities and the elderly.

"Patients with low health literacy make more errors in their medication and treatment management, are at higher risk for hospitalization," says Suzanne Hughes, Clinical Education Project Director at the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association. "And although this is a huge problem for vulnerable populations, health care providers should assume that all patients, no matter what their education level, have a low health literacy when trying to understand medical jargon and complex medical issues."

Hughes' presentation reveals how low health literacy declines with age, how health care professionals can effectively communicate with patients through teach back methods, and using pictures and video to supplement face to face encounters.


About PCNA

The Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association (PCNA) is the leading nursing organization dedicated to preventing cardiovascular disease (CVD) through assessing risk, facilitating lifestyle changes, and guiding individuals to achieve treatment goals. The mission of PCNA is to promote nurses as leaders in the prevention and management of cardiovascular disease. PCNA does this by educating and supporting nurses through the development of professional and patient education, leadership, and advocacy. For more information call 1-608-250-2440 or visit pcna.net.