Campaign Promotes Health Literacy Nationally

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Understanding the often complex medical information your doctor or other caregivers give to you can be difficult, and the consequences of misunderstanding this information can be life threatening.

The Joint Commission is launching a national campaign to help Americans prevent health care errors by promoting "health literacy" - the ability of patients to obtain, process and understand the basic information and services needed to make appropriate decisions regarding their health. The new education campaign is part of The Joint Commission's award-winning national Speak Up(TM) program that helps patients become more informed and involved in their health care.

For patients who may have difficulty comprehending the information needed to make important decisions about their care, navigating the health system can be daunting. Complex forms, conversations with doctors, medication instructions, and coping with a real or perceived lack of attention from hospital personnel all place high demands on patients. Factor in the growing number of people who must manage one or more chronic health conditions, such as hypertension, coronary artery disease or diabetes, and the impacts of health literacy are profound.

"Proper communication is a cornerstone of safe, effective care," says Mark R. Chassin, M.D., M.P.P., M.P.H., president, The Joint Commission. "The Joint Commission strives to help give patients the tools they need to understand health care information and prevent misunderstandings that place them at risk."

"Understanding Your Caregivers" offers patients questions and answers that will help them to better understand the care they receive.

Among the topics are:

-- What can you do if you don't understand what your caregiver is saying?

-- What can you do if they explain and you still don't understand?

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-- How do you understand all the instructions related to medicines, or even remember all of the medicines?

The basic foundation of Speak Up(TM) urges patients to:

Speak up if you have questions or concerns, and if you don't understand, ask again. It's your body and you have a right to know.

Pay attention to the care you are receiving. Make sure you're getting the right treatments and medications by the right health care professionals. Don't assume anything.

Educate yourself about your diagnosis, the medical tests you are undergoing, and your treatment plan.

Ask a trusted family member or friend to be your advocate.

Know what medications you take and why you take them. Medication errors are the most common health care errors.

Use a hospital, clinic, surgery center, or other type of health care organization that has undergone a rigorous on-site evaluation against established state-of-the-art quality and safety standards, such as that provided by The Joint Commission.

Participate in all decisions about your treatment. You are the center of the health care team.

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