Concerns about how to provide patients with the risks, benefits and alternatives of medical and surgical procedures prompt a look at the health literacy movement ['Come Again?' Good Medicine Requires Clarity]. Informed consent needs to be more than a patient's signature on a set of papers that were no doubt co-prepared by a legal team, say some experts in the article.
If doctors' overreliance on consent forms is bad for patients who can read well, it is a disaster for the 21 percent of adults in the United States who read at a sixth-grade level or below, and for an additional 27 percent who, according to the National Adult Literacy Survey, lack the proficiency needed to navigate the health care system easily.
Unless they pay close attention, doctors may miss the signs that a patient is a poor reader, said Toni Cordell, a literacy advocate who graduated from high school reading at a fifth-grade level. "We're often ashamed, and we get really good at hiding it," she said.
Various design and technological approaches to improving the reception, comprehension and retention of medical information are discussed near the end of the article.
Health literacy, and literacy in general, is something that social marketers and health communicators need to constantly keep in mind as they design and prepare materials. Some practitioners rely on focus groups to pretest materials to insure that they are comprehensible by the target audience, but I suggest that you should know that before you walk into the groups by building literacy into the materials at the beginning of the process - not the end. It's the same argument that the people espousing culturally competent materials would - and should - make as well. After thoughts are not acceptable professional practice for social marketers or health communicators.
Closing the gap in health literacy is an issue of fundamental fairness and equity and is essential to reduce health disparities. Public and private efforts need to occur in two areas: the development of appropriate written materials and improvement in skills of those persons with limited literacy.
Improving health literacy is also one of the US Surgeon General's public health priorities.
Other news today about the FDA's approval of an inhalation delivery system for insulin for adults with diabetes highlights that technological innovations can offer new ways to think about social marketing challenges - in this case, by introducing a new behavior that substantially alters both the contours (features) and price of adherence behavior among this large and growing group of people. The increasing use of iPods and iTunes for medical and health education purposes, for example, may be another technological innovation that we need to study, not just for its obvious advantages as a communication channel, but for how they might be used to address other elements of the marketing mix and meet the health information needs of persons with low literacy skills.
And special thanks to Nedra Weinreich for the last link who, after tasting the blogger's life here in a guest posting, has started her own blog Spare Change. Welcome back my friend to the show that never ends!