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The Health Illiterate Patient Wrongly Judged

Today I witnessed a clinician make assumptions about a patient (and wrongly judge the patient) based on the patient’s appearance which consisted of handsome looks, classy clothes, clean grooming, and nice presentation. What the clinician didn’t know is that underneath the nice appearance actually sat a patient who had comprehension problems and communication limitations; a patient who was “health illiterate.” (Yes, for non healthcare folks reading – that is a real term).

The caregiver was made to sit in the waiting room while the patient was taken in to see the clinician for testing. The clinician prevented the caregiver from going with the patient saying that:

  • The caregiver wasn’t permitted
  • There were HIPPA issues (although the patient had given consent in writing that the caregiver was his caregiver)
  • The patient “looks like a man who can do just fine on his own… unless of course he needs an interpreter”

In today’s day and age, families often assign caregivers when a family member is sick. Sometimes there are multiple caregivers. Caregivers help the patient to retain information, help guide the patient in their treatment, and relay info to others. In many cases caregivers are needed due to health literacy problems. I know as I have been a caregiver in the past for these reasons. I am also a caregiver now, and I work in healthcare communications and understand the importance of health literacy and the limitations and potential outcomes that can occur when a patient is health illiterate. Sadly, it looks like those on the front lines of care are forgetting about health literacy in their communications to patients (at least in what I experienced today).

Health literacy remains a very big problem in the United States. Some documented facts:

  • 46 million American adults are functionally illiterate.
  • 40 million Americans read at or below 4th grade reading level.
  • Nearly half of all American adults –90 million people– have difficulty understanding and using health information.
  • The average American comprehends between a 4th – 7th grade level.
  • 26% of Americans can’t understand when their next doc appt is scheduled.
  • 42% of Americans do not comprehend instructions to “take medication on an empty stomach.”
  • 49% of Americans cannot determine if they are eligible for free care by reading hospital financial aid forms.
  • 60% of Americans cannot understand a standard consent form.

Even well educated people with strong reading and writing skills may have trouble comprehending a medical form or doctor’s instructions regarding a drug or procedure. At some point, most individuals will encounter health information they cannot understand. This is why caregivers are so important.

Shame shame on this clinician today! Health literacy can strike even the well groomed. And clinical staff needs to think better than make assumptions. By making assumptions the patient can walk out confused and it can just cause the family a lot stress; making caring for the patient more difficult as one doesn’t know what has been communicated.

As the old saying goes “a book should never be judged by its cover.”  What I witnessed today I never want to witness again.

Are the medical and nursing schools teaching health literacy to students these days? I really hope they would be. Its great the medical societies like AMA, AAFP and ACP take on this role, but where do the medical schools stand with this? Id really like to know.

As a healthcare communicator, I never lose sight of health literacy in my work. Personally, I’m thankful it plays such a big role in my life as I am able to help myself, my family, and my friends muddle through potential challenges it may create.

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Got Em! FDA’s Communication Heads to Provide PR Industry Social Media Guidance Update

As my colleagues and I gear up for the 2010 PRSA Health Academy conference (April 14-16, 2010 in Chicago at the Hilton Suites Magnificent Mile), I’ve been pretty excited the past few weeks as I pulled together what I felt was a much-needed panel to update the healthcare PR community: a panel of FDA officials who are on the front lines of developing communications guidance and the latest thinking on the use of social media. I’m also excited as I get to work with these officials, and moderate the panel as well.

This year’s PRSA Health Academy conference titled “Effective Communication in an Era of Health Care Transformation: Practical Strategies to Navigate Change,” is a conference that typically draws 200+ mid to senior level healthcare communications and PR professionals. Attendees of this conference will now have the opportunity to hear from both Julie Zawisza, Director of Communications for the FDA’s center for Drug Evaluation and Research Office, and Thomas Abrams, Director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Communications Office. Both Tom and Julie will talk about:

  • Policy development for the industry’s web-based drug communications, including promotion and advertising
  • What the FDA heard from pharmaceutical companies, Internet marketers and IT gurus at the well-attended November 2009 Public Hearing on the ‘Promotion of FDA-Regulated Medical Products Using the Internet and Social Media Tools’
  • The challenges of meeting FDA rules in an Internet age
  • The FDA’s foray into the social media realm, through use of Twitter, You-Tube, blogs, mobile devices, and other tools to enhance the agency’s ability to reach target audiences with important drug safety information. 

I am both pumped and charged for our industry to hear this panel speak because lots of questions have been brewing in the healthcarecommunications and PR industry since the hearing. Among hundreds of questions wanting to be answered by live and online attendees, many wanted to know:

  • what the FDA’s next steps were/are
  • what the FDA’s true areas of strengths and weaknesses were/are
  • how the guidance document was going to be developed and who was going to contribute to it
  • among much more…

First, I hope many of you will be able to join us this year for the conference. It’s always a great healthcare communications conference.

Second, I truly feel this is a panel that should not be missed! Many members of the healthcare PR/Comm industry will get to hear directly from the FDA’s Communications heads. A topic that everyone in the industry is glued to.

Lastly, since I will be moderating this panel I’d love to hear questions that you all feel are the most important for Julie and Tom to answer to the healthcare PR industry. What is that you all really need and want to know as the FDA is currently developing the guidance document?

Looking forward to your comments and input.

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How the FDA Can Harness Social Media for Improved Patient Access to Treatments & Clinical Trials

Below is a letter several of us wrote and submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration around the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s November 12 & 13, 2009, Advisory Committee Meeting hearing around the use of social media. Read more

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Hunting for a Healthcare PR Job Got a Lil Easier!

If you’re looking for a healthcare PR job – it just got easier! And if you’re in a position where you are recruiting for healthcare PR talent – it too just got easier!

There was a time when my phone would ring and the emails would roll in from recruiters of all type contacting me about open healthcare PR and communications jobs… During that same time messages via word-of-mouth or via email would roll in from PR friends and colleagues looking for a new gig. There was one week where I was contacted on 40 different occasions about positions. And often I would count up to 8 to 10 messages received in one single day. Because of this, I often found myself (and still do) playing matchmaker.

I take a genuine interest in all people and networking has imagesalways been something that I felt I’ve done well with throughout my career. Given that I have a large network of healthcare public relations and communications colleagues, I am in a position to “match” and “connect” people. And this is something I have found myself doing over the years. Frankly, it’s easy for me to connect people. However, it can be extremely time consuming and it could be a full-time job. So I just created something to solve this. Plus, in this economy, so many people need help with leads for jobs and this method can really serve as a help.

I started a Twitter handle called ‘Healthcare PR Jobs’ which can be found at @hlthcarePRjobs. I started this group to help connect healthcare PR/communications pros with executive recruiters and agency and corporate HR recruiters looking for good healthcare PR/communications talent. I also started it so everyone can share opportunities as they learn of them. It’s going to take a little bit of time to build up but I am hopeful that soon enough it will be a great resource to use to learn about healthcare PR jobs and to forward along to friends and colleagues who are looking.

So what do you need to do from here?  Follow @hlthcarePRjobs on Twitter; also know as ‘Healthcare PR Jobs.’ (If you’re not on Twitter then get with it and make this your reason to finally join!). Once you start following @hlthcarePRjobsyou can follow, post a job, retweet (which means to forward a post) jobs that you see, share info, and connect with professionals who you may not have known previously. [If you aren't familiar with how Twitter works, def have a friend or social media colleague show you...]

My plan was that beginning in November of 2009 I’d begin holding weekly Twitter chats on Tuesday’s at 9:00 PM Eastern at #HCPRjobs and talk about job hunting issues, challenges in the healthcare PR job environment, salary issues and much more. We haven’t started this yet. However, Twitter chats create forums where many people join, chime in and share their knowledge. Chats are also an opportunity for you to connect with more people and expand your professional network. I will feature three jobs per chat. If you have a job that you want me throw out there to the participating chat group and highlight, get to me early enough in the week I will feature your job.  [Stay tuned for the date of the first chat!]

Hope to be seeing at @hlthcarePRjobsimagesCATNJ0LC

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