Health Literacy and Patient Conversations

Only 12% of US adults have the health literacy skills required to meet the demands of our complex healthcare system. The ability of individuals to absorb and use health information can be compromised by stress or an illness such as cancer. Experts recommend emphasizing the end benefits for the patient when giving instructions and discussing next steps. A solid framework for these conversations includes1,2:

  • Telling what's wrong
  • Keeping it brief
  • Telling them what they need to do and why

It's important to educate patients both verbally and in writing, to ensure they are well-informed. Patients who understand their condition and are well-informed have better adherence to therapy.3 When talking to cancer patients, simplifying communications and confirming comprehension throughout the discussion helps minimize the risk of miscommunication.1


References: 1. AHRQ health literacy universal precautions toolkit. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website. https://www.ahrq.gov/professionals/quality-patient-safety/quality-resources/tools/literacy-toolkit/index.html. Updated August 2018. Accessed October 9, 2018. 2. Health literacy: hidden barriers and practical strategies. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website. https://www.ahrq.gov/professionals/quality-patient-safety/quality-resources/tools/literacy-toolkit/tool3a/index.html. Updated December 2017. Accessed November 29, 2018. 3. A team-based approach to oral adherence in the oncology setting [educator module]. Lawrenceville, NJ: Advanced Practitioner Society for Hematology and Oncology (APSHO), 2017. https://www.apsho.org/page/Educator_Mod. Accessed January 2, 2019.