Natl. Health Literacy Month highlights communication between doctors, patients


DELMARVA – New data from the Milken Institute shows that 89% of American adults have trouble navigating health care information. The ability to do so is called health literacy. October marks National Health Literacy Month.

Health Literacy

Dr. Colin Banas, Chief Medical Officer for DrFirst says improving health care literacy starts with communication.

“When I think about health literacy, I really think about if we as clinicians are reaching the patients. And, are we reaching them in a way where they can understand what we’re trying to convey?” said Dr. Banas. “This can be things as simple as the medication regimen, the instructions on how to take it, all the way through complex care plans that really need a strict adherence in order to get the maximum outcome.”

Dr. Banas adds that part of improving communication between doctors and patients is reframing how they speak to one another.

“We have become more and more aware of how important it is to talk to our patients, instead of at our patients,” said Dr. Banas. “The benefits and the outcomes speak for themselves; when the patients understand, and when the patients are on board with what the clinicians are prescribing, the adherence goes through the roof, and the outcomes are improved.”

Navigating Prescriptions

Part of the problem, explains Dr. Banas, comes with new prescriptions. He says one in four patients never pick up medications newly prescribed to them. Dr. Banas tells 47 ABC the abandonment of new prescriptions often comes out of uncertainty.

“If they don’t understand why I’m prescribing this or what to expect, they might not ever go down that path of taking that medication, or adhering to that care plan. It all starts with understanding,” said Dr. Banas. We trace it all the way back to literacy. Does the patient understand what this medication is? Why it’s important? What are the potential side effects? Who to contact if they have questions?”

Health IT

Many of the tools that can help improve health literacy can be found in the digital world, says Dr. Banas.

“There are tools that are now on the horizon that can really help augment literacy and understanding. A lot of those tools are digital,” said Dr. Banas. “There are things like text messages or patient portals that can send reminders to patients, that can send quick snippets or videos of education.”

As those technologies continue to develop, Dr. Banas only expects health literacy and technology to improve in the near future. Adding, he thinks that across the health care industry, more and more providers are getting on board.

“I think it’s an exciting time in health care, because I think there are plenty of health IT interventions, tools, and so forth that can really reach the patient and bridge that gap,” said Dr. Banas.

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