CE spotlight: Address health literacy by adopting patient-centered approaches

Nurse Leader Insider, April 6, 2009

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In 2003, staff members at Iowa Health System (IHS) identified poor health literacy as an ongoing issue and began developing a system that would "improve the health of the people and communities we serve," says Mary Ann Abrams, MD, MPH, health management consultant in the IHS Department of Clinical Performance Improvement. "Health information directed toward patients is often too technical for most to understand, regardless of educational background, reading level, or level of health literacy," Abrams says.

The Health Literacy Collaborative (HLC) is a program designed to educate staff members about the importance of communicating health information clearly to patients and family members. By developing the HLC, the hospital aimed to "create a patient- and family-centered environment, fostering effective communication that enables individuals to read, understand, and act on healthcare information," says Abrams.

According to the U.S. Department of Education's 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 36% of the U.S. adult population has only basic or below basic health literacy levels.

Key points of the HLC address simplifying communication between healthcare providers, patients, and patients' families. This includes:

  • Awareness, education, and training
  • Collaborative partnerships and patient involvement
  • Interpersonal and verbal communication
  • Reader-friendly print material

Editor's note: This excerpt was adapted from the new CE article, “Address health literacy by adopting patient-centered approaches” featured in The Reading Room on HCPro's online resource center,

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