Importance of Health Literacy in Relation to Patients

Health Literacy Background

Effective and competent physician-patient communication has been positively associated with patient health outcomes such as reduction of medical errors, enhancement of patient compliance with treatment interventions, patient satisfaction and trust, and facilitation of self-care skills (Zill et al., 2014). In interprofessional settings, effective communication is considered an important component in facilitating teamwork between healthcare professionals, delivering patient-centered care, understanding the roles of other health professionals, and internalizing patient and group norms (Suter et al., 2009). Poor health literacy has been closely associated with lack of effective communication in health care settings, with the available literature underscoring the barriers posed by poor health literacy on effective healthcare communication in terms of inability of patients to comply with medical guidance and make the changes necessary for health improvement (Lambert & Keogh, 2014). This calls for concerted efforts to improve the health literacy of the health care organization analyzed below, with particular attention focused on facilitating communication courses between health care professionals, designing and printing culturally-specific educational posters and materials, as well as hiring more healthcare professionals from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

Current Health Literacy of a Healthcare Organization

Health literacy has been defined as “the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions” (Branch et al., 2012, p. 1). This section evaluates and analyzes the current health literacy of a public dental clinic that specializes in the treatment of dental caries and other oral health conditions in an underprivileged multicultural community. The attributes of health literacy that will be analyzed include leadership, integration of health literacy into the critical operations of the clinic, workforce preparation, interpersonal communications, population awareness, and access to health information.

The leaders of the public dental health clinic have made health literacy an integral component of the mission of providing quality oral healthcare to underserved populations as demonstrated by its clear and effective communication channels across all levels and also by its incorporation of a culture that values patient and consumer perspectives regardless of ethnic background and social class. Additionally, the dental clinic has ensured the integration of health literacy into all activities and uses health literacy measures to inform its strategic and operational planning. For example, the dental clinic uses oral caries prevalence measures in the community to inform policy and also to allocate more resources to underprivileged populations based on unmet healthcare needs.

In workforce preparation, the public dental clinic is known to present its medical and support staff with routine opportunities for health literacy training inside the organization. The training has enabled the clinic to report significant improvements in patients who visit the facility for oral screenings and in the number of patients who are satisfied with the services. Although the clinic has reported substantial improvements in patients seeking for preventive oral health services due to a well-trained and empowered workforce, the training does not include communication courses.

The organization makes use of health literacy strategies (e.g., explaining things in ways that patients can understand, allowing adequate time for interactions among health professionals and patients, and fostering a culture that underlines verification of understanding of every communication) to promote interpersonal communication, enhance collaboration, and trigger understanding at all levels of contact. However, more needs to be done to ensure effective doctor-patient communication as many patients are from underprivileged populations that lack basic communication skills.

The health organization has ensured population awareness of common oral health diseases by hanging awareness posters on hospital walls. The organization is also actively engaged in providing easy access to health information through electronic means, patient portals, audiovisual content, and a user-friendly telephone system (Branch et al., 2012). These strategies have increased health literacy levels in the population, hence ensuring more people can seek preventive and treatment assistance from the facility.

Improvement Plan

From the discussion and analysis, it is clear that the health care organization has adopted many of the components associated with health literacy. However, it needs to undertake a number of system changes to align healthcare demands with skills and abilities of community members and ensure people are empowered to navigate, understand, and use information and services provided by the organization (Branch et al., 2012). The improvement plan will touch on three attributes of health literacy; workforce preparation, interpersonal communications, and population awareness. In workforce planning, professionals in the organization (e.g., physicians, dentists, dental hygienists, and nurses) need to be encouraged to take communication courses outside of their professional training and to benefit from recommended health literate communication strategies that will spur the intake of health-related services in multicultural settings. The health organization also needs to design and print culturally-specific educational posters and awareness materials (e.g., materials that respect the subjective value systems of diverse community members and adopt health literacy universal precautions) to ensure understanding and to increase health-related knowledge in the population. Lastly, the health care organization needs to hire more professionals from diverse ethnic backgrounds to ensure the needs of its multicultural patient base are adequately addressed.

The challenges associated with implementing this plan of action include lack of financial resources to train health professionals, lack of a competent pool of multicultural health professionals, and minimal understanding of cultural-specific value systems of the community members who are served by the facility. The resources needed to implement the plan, therefore, include financial inputs, interpreter services to assist in designing culturally-specific educational materials and posters, as well as multicultural communication training facilities.


Branch, C., Keller, D., Hernandez, L.M., Baur, C., Parker, R., Drayer, B.,…Schillinger, D. (2012). Ten attributes of health literate healthcare organizations. Web.

Lambert, V., & Keogh, D. (2014). Health literacy and its importance for effective communication. Part 1. Nursing Children and Young People, 26(3), 31-37. Web.

Suter, E., Arndt, J., Arthur, N., Parboosingh, J., Taylor, E., & Deutschlander, S. (2009). Role understanding and effective communication as core competencies for collaborative practice. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 23(1), 41-59. Web.

Zill, J.M., Christalle, E., Muller, E., Harter, M., Dirmaier, J., & Scholl, I. (2014). Measurement of physician-patient communication – A systematic review. PLoS ONE, 9(12), 1-20. Web.

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