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SMAs And Health Literacy

One of the most important functions of SMAs is education. With this comes a huge opportunity to improve patient health literacy. It is estimated that over 89 million Americans have inadequate health literacy, which is linked to poor health outcomes, including a higher rate of hospitalizations and increased healthcare costs.

In 2004, there were almost 800 million people throughout the world unable to read or write. The most recent statistics show that nearly half the U.S. population has low or limited literacy. Imagine that you are someone that struggles to read – now add the emotional stress of a medical situation and some really complicated information. In managing our health we need read, understand, and remember long scientific words that even some healthcare professionals can’t pronounce.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

As we know, health literacy extends far beyond just reading and writing. In order to understand health information, people need to be able to evaluate information, analyze risks and benefits, calculate dosages of medication, and understand test results, to name a few. Many patients have trouble communicating with their healthcare provider and following up with self-care because of poor basic health vocabulary and limited health knowledge. Managing our care requires many different skill sets outside of the realm of just reading and writing.

It can be even more challenging to understand information when at a provider’s office or in the hospital because emotions are often running high. The opportunity to learn and interpret information when emotions are de-escalated is important for information retention, especially for a patient managing a chronic condition and/or major medical decisions.

Shared medical appointments improve patient education, prevention, and chronic disease management. By integrating the help and support of other patients, they also offer much needed emotional support.

The additional appointment time could also allow the healthcare team to multiple learning styles within a room. Have trouble reading? We’ll show you. Have trouble with your vision? We’ll do it with you. Are numbers more your thing? We’ll draw a graph on the whiteboard. Shared medical appointments encourage people to ask questions when they don’t understand, which encourages the healthcare team to explain things in more than one way.

There has not been any research about shared medical appointments and health literacy. However, that gap just emphasizes the opportunity to increase health literacy by addressing a medical problem from multiple angles.