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The Catalyst

MUSC tackles issue of low health literacy

Staff Reports

Health literacy has been defined as the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions. It is essential in improving diagnosis, treatment, post treatment adherence and outcomes.  

Ninety percent of adults have difficulty understanding basic health information that is routinely given by health care providers.  

Older adults, who utilize twice as many medical services and acquire more chronic diseases are more at risk. According to the American Medical Association:

  • 71 percent of adults older than age 60 have difficulty using print materials
  • 80 percent have difficulty using documents such as forms or charts
  • 68 percent have difficulty interpreting numbers and performing calculations
  • 67 percent are unable to understand information about their medicines

Other groups who are at the “below basic” health literacy level include minorities, immigrants and low income populations. Even those with a good education, income and command of English may misinterpret basic instructions. For example, is taking medicine twice daily the same as once in the morning and once in the evening? Doubling up in the morning with a heavy narcotic pain killer, for instance, could be dangerous.

Under the leadership of Kathleen White, R.N., chair of the Patient & Family Education Committee, a consortium of MUSC departments, the Health Literacy Action Team, will create policies and tools to assure MUSC providers — including students, faculty and staff — are effectively communicating and that the patients fully understand post–treatment instructions and are able to comply with them. Danielle Scheurer, M.D., medical director of quality, will serve as senior leadership advisor.

During Health Literacy Month in October, look for a series of activities, including weekly tabling events at ART, Main and the Children’s Hospital to educate staff about health literacy, informal surveys to discover staff awareness and their best practices, and the Action Team to provide links to Health Literacy resources.

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October 17, 2014



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