Health Literacy and Infection Prevention

by Erica Mitchell | May 31 2024 | Patient Advocacy, Infection Control, Consumer, Patient Safety, Epidemiology, Interventions, Public Health | 0 Comments

health literacy-01Health literacy is the ability to obtain, read, understand, and use healthcare information to make appropriate health decisions and follow instructions for treatment. It involves a range of skills, including reading comprehension, numeracy, and the ability to navigate the healthcare system. Health literacy is crucial because it affects an individual's capacity to make informed health decisions, manage chronic conditions, and reduce health risks. In today's post, we'll look at essential health literacy skills and how they can lead to better infection prevention and control.

The Basics

First, let's break down the basic skills needed to be considered "health literate" and how the healthcare system can help bridge any skill gaps in that area.

  1. Reading and Comprehension: Understanding written health information, such as prescription labels, appointment slips, medical brochures, and discharge instructions. SUPPORTS: Use plain language, break up text with helpful headings, make sure critical information stands out visibly.
  2. Numeracy: Understanding numerical data, such as dosages, blood pressure readings, and risk probabilities. SUPPORTS: Use charts and graphs to visually represent data, provide comparisons to put data in perspective, use real-life examples to explain risk.
  3. Communication Skills: Ability to communicate with healthcare providers, ask questions, and express concerns. SUPPORTS: Provide a list of common questions to get the conversation started, ask patient if they have questions throughout conversation, not just at the end. Provide patients with a way to ask questions after the appointment is over.
  4. Navigational Skills: Knowing how to access healthcare services, schedule appointments, and follow up on referrals. SUPPORTS: Outreach is essential to make sure the community knows how to access health care before it becomes an emergency. Provide clear steps to help patients set up appointments, how to use a referral, and what resources are available to help them navigate the process.
  5. Critical Thinking: Evaluating health information from various sources to determine its credibility and relevance. SUPPORTS: Anticipate the health messaging patients may get out in the community that may include misunderstanding, misinformation, and outdated advice and provide trusted sources of information they can use to verify what they might read or hear elsewhere.

People with high health literacy are better equipped to manage their health and navigate the healthcare system effectively. Conversely, low health literacy can lead to poor health outcomes, such as misunderstanding medication instructions, missing appointments, and not following treatment plans properly.

How can health literacy improve infection prevention and control?

A significant part of infection prevention relies on patient behaviors before and after treatment, so ensuring that the patient understands the "why" behind their instructions is critical. Taking the time to explain the risks of infection and what the patient can do to reduce that risk can mean the difference between getting an HAI and avoiding an HAI. This advice extends to caretakers and visitors, who must also understand the risks of infection and the steps they can take to reduce this preventable harm to their loved one. Here are some ideas:

  • A poster on the patient door that shows how much greater the risk of infection can be if caretakers do not wash their hands or wear PPE
  • Large-format signage in discharge paperwork that patients can put up in their homes with messages such as "PLEASE WASH YOUR HANDS" or "PLEASE WEAR A MASK"
  • Clear care instructions with illustrations, QR codes to explanatory videos, calendars, and other organizational and informational items can help bridge gaps in understanding.

Do you have any recommendations for how infection preventionists can support health literacy? Share them in the comments below!