According to a study of Health Literacy in Canada, 60 per cent of Canadians and 88 per cent of seniors have low health literacy. It is likely that at St. Michael's, these numbers may be higher given the variety of barriers our inner city patients and families face.
In the last decade, research confirmed that low health literacy has negative effects. It is associated with poor chronic disease management, poor comprehension and adherence to medication regimes, increased hospitalization and poor outcomes.
Patient education remains an important focus at St. Michael’s because most patients are not able to understand the disease information they need. Effective patient education can improve patient safety, increase adherence to medication regimes, improve self-efficacy, lower the use of health services and ultimately improve outcomes.
St. Michael’s has adopted a proactive approach to tackling issues related to low health literacy and its impact on patient care. Based on evidence regarding effective interventions, the Patient and Family Education Program established three strategic directions to improve outcomes for those with low literacy:
St. Michael's has adopted a proactive approach to tackling issues related to low health literacy and its impact on patient care.
This approach recognizes that in order for health literacy to improve, the hospital must reduce the health literacy demands of its health-care system, as well as provide support to meet the information needs of patients and families.
To implement these strategic directions, St. Michael’s invested in the following activities:
St. Michael's invested in key activities in order to address low health literacy.
The Patient and Family Learning Centre (PFLC) provides access to resources to meet the varied needs of patients, families and visitors to the hospital. Staff and trained volunteers help visitors find reliable health information, including brochures, books, DVDs, audiobooks and online information, and they link patients and families to community resources, which can enable better care transitions and support recovery. At the Patient and Family Learning Centre, which opened in June 2011, patients can explore information at their own pace in formats that meet their needs. To expand the services of the PFLC, patient and family education racks have been added to more than 50 locations across the hospital.
The new vision for the centre is to transform it into a combined resource centre and teaching space, which St. Michael’s will implement once the PFLC has moved into a new space in the new patient tower.
Martha Schroder, a Critical Care Unit Resource Nurse at St. Michael’s Hospital, shares how the Patient and Family Learning Centre helps families.
The Patient and Family Education program has created a wide range of educational offerings to raise awareness regarding health literacy barriers and improve patient and family education among staff and students. Some educational highlights include creating Health Literacy eLearning modules, offering the Maximizing Your Patient Education Skills course, providing training on Using Teach-Back and creating a community of practice for patient and family education. To deliver these sessions, the program partnered with others, such as the Late Career Nurse Initiative, the Senior-Friendly Hospital Strategy and the Dietetic Internship program. The program has also begun to work closely with Quality Improvement to enhance delivery of education at critical points of the health care process, such as during a patient discharge.
Through these opportunities, St. Michael’s strives to continuously improve skills in evidence-based strategies, address barriers to understanding and enhance the health literacy of patients and family members.