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Health literacy

According to the National Academy of Medicine, health literacy is "the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions."

These are skills that patients need to find their way to the right place in a hospital, fill out medical and insurance forms, and communicate with healthcare providers.

Only 12 percent of adults have proficient health literacy, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. In other words, nearly nine out of ten adults may lack the skills needed to manage their health and prevent disease. Health literacy can affect anyone regardless of race, age, religion or education level.

By addressing each patient’s communication needs during the continuum of care, healthcare teams can help patients:

  • Fill out complex forms
  • Locate providers and services
  • Share patient health history and other personal information with health providers
  • Take care of themselves
  • Manage a chronic disease
  • Understand how to take medicines

Northwell’s health professionals strive to:

  • Identify patient cultural, religious or spiritual beliefs and practices that influence care
  • Address patient communication needs during treatment
  • Tailor communication methods to meet the patients needs
  • Monitor changes in patient communication status
  • Share communication information about unique patient needs to the health care team 

Along the journey to improve patient-provider communication and enhance Northwell Health’s partnership with the community, the following communication methods may be used:

Plain language

Northwell Health employees strive to use plain language in each conversation. Plain language is sometimes called "living room language" because it’s how patients speak if they were sitting in their home and having a conversation with someone. It is using "everyday words" without medical jargon.

If a patient or family member does not understand a term being used, they are encouraged to ask for an explanation.

The teach-back method

It’s important that the health care team is certain they have explained instructions to patients in a clear and concise manner.

When using the "teach-back" method, a medical professional may state "I want to be sure I was clear in my explanation. Can you tell me how you would explain to your (spouse, father, sister, mother, brother, etc.) what I just reviewed with you?" If the patient can’t explain clearly (“teach back”) what they were told, then it’s important that the health care team re-teach the information using different terms and analogies, or use a different approach.

Shame-free environment

Northwell Health makes every effort to create an environment in our facilities where patients and family members are comfortable and encouraged to ask for help with difficult forms and information. Doctors and nurses may ask “what questions do you have?" to encourage communication and then allow time to listen.

By using communication methods that consider and adapt to the patient’s individual needs, Northwell Health provides a safe, comfortable environment for patients and visitors.