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.
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 always 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 @hlthcarePRjobs.