Are you speaking your patients’ language?

Posted on April 22, 2014


Addressing Health Literacy: An Always Event

Nearly half of all American adults - 90 million people - have difficulty understanding and using health information, according to the Institute of Medicine. 1

Low health literacy affects people from all walks of life. Even many college graduates don't have the health literacy skills needed to navigate the health system and actively participate in their care. Holding an MBA does not necessarily mean a person understands the medical jargon physicians - or nurses - often use. In fact, well-educated people may be at an even greater disadvantage because embarrassment about not understanding instructions they think they should understand may prevent them from asking questions.

The impact of low health literacy on rural hospitals and health systems:

Low health literacy can contribute to outmigration as confused and helpless patients feel their needs aren't being respected or met. They'll drive a little further, when possible, if the nearest urban teaching hospital's communication style resonates with them. Not addressing low health literacy can also lower your HCAHPS scores and thus, reimbursements.  And here's the kicker: higher rates of hospitalization and avoidable use of emergency services associated with low health literacy wastes billions of dollars. 2

Does your hospital have room for improvement?

Do your patients routinely answer these HCAHPS questions with "Always"? 3

  • During this hospital stay, how often did doctors treat you with courtesy and respect?
  • During this hospital stay, how often did doctors listen carefully to you?
  • During this hospital stay, how often did doctors explain things in a way you could understand?

Make effective communication an "Always" event:

  • Teach providers to lose the medical jargon - Communicating in plain language won't undermine their authority; in fact, clear communication enhances the perception of value of the encounter and helps create trust.
  • Create an environment free of shame and blame - It works both ways: caregivers and patients should feel there are no dumb questions.
  • Use the teach-back method - Educate physicians and staff in this tried-and-true method of testing whether they have communicated in a way patients understand.

Getting started is easier than it sounds!

There are an overwhelming number of resources out there, including solid information curated by the NIH. If you're brave enough and have time to do some heavy reading, look here.

Or, for a quick start, check out these reliable, user-friendly resources:

  • The AHRQ Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit has everything you need to know to assess your current performance on health literacy issues and begin to make significant changes. Download it for free.
  • The "Always use Teach-Back!" training tool kit is a free interactive online learning module for providers developed by the University of Iowa, The Picker Institute, Des Moines University and Health Literacy Iowa. Access it here.

If you are not already aggressively addressing low health literacy in your community, getting started is not as difficult as you may think. And it's the right thing to do for hospitals and patients.

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Turn Wellness Trends Into Profit for Your CAH

Posted on April 8, 2014


Wherever you stand on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), I think we can all agree that preventive care is in the air.  The ACA and many of its programs, parts and parcels focus on care coordination, prevention and wellness. That has both employers and health insurance providers placing greater emphasis on wellness. And consumers are following suit.

SymphonyIRI (a market research company) found that:

  • ¾ of all consumers are trying to eat healthier today to save money on health care later.
  • 30% of all adults (on average) are concerned about weight loss.
  • 29% are worried about stress management.
  • As people grow older, their health concerns become more focused on problems associated with aging instead of weight and stress. The top two health concerns of seniors, aged 68 and older, are:
    • Cholesterol.
    • Heart-related issues.

OK, so I think we're clear on why your rural hospital needs to take note of these facts and stats. But that leads to an even more important question: How can your CAH leverage these trends?  I'll give you some examples:

  • Develop a campaign around preventative care, such as mammograms or colonoscopies.
    • Don't waste consumers' time by telling them what it takes to be healthy and all the reasons it's important. They already know what and why, and will just tune you out.
    • Focus on making it easy and "nonthreatening" for them to take action, like holding a "Mani and Mammogram" event.
    • Offer a farmer's market on your hospital's grounds to increase physical activity and promote healthy eating.
    • Leverage the ACA by partnering with local businesses offering employee wellness programs.
      • Employers know that wellness programs help reduce absenteeism, employee turnover and insurance premium costs.
      • The ACA supports workplace wellness programs, such as those that provide incentives for attending a weight loss, nutrition or smoking cessation program.
      • Building strong business partnerships can ultimately result in stronger consumer/patient relationships for your CAH.
      • Get involved in the community to promote preventive care. WEPAC Hoops for Hope Weekend is a great example. Ashland Health Center and Comanche County Hospital put on an annual event with 90% of the proceeds going to pay for mammograms, pap smears and colonoscopies for women in those five small towns.

These health and wellness initiatives can lead to more revenue, increased volume and stronger patient relationships for your CAH. That's a fact. I'd be happy to share some proof points with you. Give me a call or shoot me an email if you'd like a professional perspective on what your CAH is doing - or could do - to leverage health and wellness trends in 2014.

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