Tips On Communicating With Patients With Low Health Literacy




Health literacy can be a large barrier in effectively communicating and treating a patient. Patients with low health literacy are linked to poor health outcomes and increased health care costs.


Here are a few tips to educate and help your patients understand their diagnosis and treatment.


Use plain language. Speaking or writing in plain language makes written and oral information easier for the patient to understand – enough so that they fully comprehend the first time they read or hear it. It can be a challenge to learn ways to communicate in plain language; follow these guidelines:



  • Organize the information so the most important points come first

  • Break complex information down into understandable chunks

  • Use simple language to define technical terms



Know your audience. Do your best to gather an understanding of the patient’s health literacy or education level. Plain language used with one patient may not be the same as the plain language used with another.


Have an understanding and respect for different cultures. A person’s culture affects how they communicate, understand, and respond to health information. Do your best to recognize beliefs, values, attitudes, and health practices of the patient’s culture. Try to communicate in a manner that is linguistically and culturally appropriate.


Questions and answers. Provide plenty of opportunities for patients to ask questions, and take time to answer them thoroughly. Use visuals if you are able to. It can also be helpful to ask patients to repeat back information you relayed to them to ensure comprehension.



The primary responsibility for improving health literacy lies with public health professionals and health care systems. We must work together to improve the care and outcomes of patients.






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