Being able to understand and clearly communicate health information is fundamentally important to make appropriate health decisions. Health literacy strategies should thus be an everyday part of palliative care to improve the experience of patients with serious illnesses.
Health literacy is defined 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. In a recent article, published in the Public Health Forum, Melissa G. French from the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences highlighted the importance of health literacy in palliative care.
Serious illnesses bring many challenges for patients and their families. Accessing adequate palliative care should not be one of these challenges. Palliative care is a way of approaching healthcare for people with long-term serious illness. It is often confused with end-of-life care but is just as important for those without a terminal diagnosis. Palliative care offers a comprehensive approach to care that focuses on learning and respecting patient values and desires.
No patient should be left in the dark
It is not easy to provide high quality palliative care. It requires careful attention to coordination between caregivers, identifying patient preferences, and communicating complex treatment plans. Because of this, health literacy offers a path to providing better palliative care for patients and increasing quality of life. A system that values health literacy makes sure that the demands of the organization match the skills of the individual. It does this by training its workforce in good communication practices. It makes sure that all of its written communications are designed to be easy to read and understand. It embeds health literate practices into its workflow so that health literacy becomes a part of every interaction. Most importantly, it offers this level of clarity to every patient so that no one is left without adequate understanding. Palliative care delivered within a system that values and embraces health literacy in every day practice provides an opportunity to improve the quality of the care delivered and the patient experience.
Responsibility of organizations towards the individual
Health literacy and the recognition of its value within the healthcare system have been gaining momentum over the past two decades. Originally envisioned as an individual trait, the concept of health literacy is increasingly seen as a product of the interaction between an individual and the system in which he or she must operate. Thus health literacy is also something that can be practiced by groups or organizations. This work builds on this concept by showing that organizational health literacy is necessary to provide high quality care in a complex environment. Further, it is the responsibility of the organization to make sure that its practices are health literate and not the responsibility of the individual to “figure out” the system. Support for this idea is growing as more and more health systems around the world embrace health literacy as a means to providing better care.
Learn more: Health Literacy Europe
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