October is Health Literacy Month, a time to highlight the importance of health literacy for all. At this critical time in our nation's public health history, everyone -- regardless of their level of medical sophistication -- should be able to easily understand the health care options they face, the health services available to them, and how to use this information to improve their lives.
In this spirit, we encourage all health care organizations to make the improvements needed to help all patients easily understand -- and act on -- the information they receive. Organizations that do this systematically and effectively can be considered "health literate organizations." Receiving care in a health literate organization means everyone should be able to find, comprehend, and act in an informed fashion about their health care, regardless of the complexity. At each visit, you should feel assured that you are at the center of the care process. You should be greeted in a welcoming manner, encouraged to ask questions, invited to give feedback regarding your experience, and receive simple follow-up information after you leave.
To help health care organizations achieve health literacy, my colleagues at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the MacColl Center for Healthcare Innovation have proposed a new framework called the Health Literate Care Model. This model represents a practical roadmap for how a health care organization -- be it a hospital, clinic, doctor's office, or pharmacy -- can become a place where you fully comprehend and can take charge of your care options with confidence.
Here are the key ways an organization can help you in your health decisions through health literacy:
The health care organization
Health literate organizations support informed patient engagement as part of their mission. Every member of the organization commits to making this mission come alive. Leaders of the organization create policies that protect all patients from unnecessary misunderstanding. Using your feedback, they continually evaluate how well they are serving you. They are always ready to improve how their organizations do business so patients' needs are met.
Your providers won't assume you understand your treatment plan or how to use your medications. Instead, they'll assume you may be at risk of not understanding. You'll be asked to explain your care in your words so that the provider knows that you truly "get it" before you leave the facility.
Delivery system design
The organization designs your care with the utmost respect for the central role you play in your own health.
In a health literate organization, decision making about your care options is shared between you and your provider team.
Clinical information systems
Your care is monitored, and coordinated for you, electronically so that you receive informed, consistent care, even when you visit different providers.
Your providers will provide information about community resources that can help you manage your health condition and prevent disease outside of the clinic setting.
The Health Literate Care Model guides a health care experience that ensures you are an informed member of your health care team. Let us honor Health Literacy Month by emphasizing that your informed involvement can make good health a reality.