October 6, 2021
By Danielle Darius and Yonesha Cole
This year Drexel has its first club focused solely on promoting health literacy throughout the community. This club, Health Literacy & Community Partners, is founded on the idea of bridging the gaps in patient-doctor communication. Through studies and patient encounters it has been shown that health literacy is a social determinant of health and a major foundation in preventive health. Thus, at this year’s Community Health Fair we are launching our “Let’s Talk” campaign. We aim to spread knowledge through easy-to-navigate resources focused on preparing for doctor’s visits and “things to tell your doctor.”
For context, health literacy is “the ability to obtain, process, and act upon information regarding one’s health” (Sprogell et al., 2021). A large part of one’s health maintenance comes through communication with your doctor. Too often patients are unaware of things they need to be discussing with their providers, and this can negatively impact their care. The first initiative in our “Let’s Talk” campaign was to compile a list of things that can improve the ability of patients’ access to a health care provider and improve the effectiveness of the patient’s overall visit.
The importance of having a “priority question”
We stress the importance of goals for a health care visit. Part of health literacy is the ability to obtain the specific information that you want out of a visit. As the conversation proceeds between a patient and practitioner, it is easy to lose sight of what you want. We encourage patients to have what we call a “priority question,” or the one thing, if nothing else, that you want to make sure is addressed in your visit. The goal is for patients to gain confidence in navigating the health care system by leaving their visits satisfied that whatever concern they had about their health was addressed.
Having a medication list prior to a doctor’s visit can improve the efficiency of health visits tremendously. When a practitioner knows exactly what medications a patient is taking, this can prevent contraindications and accidental overdose, and ultimately it can optimize your medical care. An additional aspect of health literacy in medication management is being able to obtain a prescription and understand the proper amount, frequency and timing of that medication. When discussing new medication with your practitioner, it is crucial to understand what substances you can or cannot take while on that medication.
Resources for health insurance
Part of being health literate that is often overlooked is how to navigate the world of insurance. Unfortunately, health insurance in America is not the easiest system to traverse, but there are some tips that may help patients. The number one thing patients can do is to ask questions, specifically asking the insurance company questions about coverage. Member services are a great resource for patients to use to get specific information about their insurance coverage. Member services’ contact information for each insurance company can be found on the back of the patient’s insurance card and is typically a toll-free number. Listed below are some sites in Philadelphia that accept uninsured patients:
- John Bell Health Center - Philadelphia FIGHT
1207 Chesnut St. 3rd floor, Philadelphia PA 19107
- Esperanza Health Center
861 E Allegheny Ave, Philadelphia PA 19134
- Health Center 2 - Philadelphia Department of Public Health
1700 S Broad St. Unit 201, Philadelphia PA 19145
- For information about other health centers: call 311
Being a personal advocate
One of the main goals of Drexel’s Health Literacy Community Partners is to equip patients with enough information to become advocates for themselves. Being a self-advocate in health care settings means knowing what to do and say to get the best care possible. This includes but is not limited to asking for clarification, being involved in decisions made about your care and being completely transparent with your providers. Patients should leave visits feeling confident that their concerns were addressed and that they are on the same page with their provider.
What is one piece of advice you would give patients that they could use to make their doctor’s visit the most effective?
“First, talk to your family members about what medical problems they have. I think that’s really important and really allows us as providers to figure out what your risk is for medical conditions. Many families are not as open about medical problems, so I think that is something that could add to us (providers) figuring out how best to screen you and how best to offer assistance. Second, knowing your medications! Be earnest in terms of what you’re taking. We’re all on the same team we are all trying to help.” – Dr. Janet Cruz, Drexel University College of Medicine
“I would say that I find it super helpful when patients bring their medications with them so I know what they are for sure taking/supposed to be taking. I also find it very helpful when patients know the name of their specialists and maybe even have their business card in case I need to get in touch with them or request records.” – Dr. Kristen Ryczak, Drexel University College of Medicine
Health literacy is the responsibility of both the patient and the provider. The more literate patients are about their health the greater their perception will be about the quality of care they receive. Health literacy allows patients and providers to work synchronously to achieve the same goal. Each patient has the ability to be health literate, and we are here to help them get there.
"Health Literacy in Primary Care: Reflections and Suggestions for Physicians, Researchers, and Administrators"
Sprogell, A., Casola, A. R., & Cunningham, A.
American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1177/15598276211041283 (2021)
** Improvements in health literacy can be made in every setting. Education level is not solely indicative of health literacy. A study showed that almost 20% of the highest educated group were classified as low health literacy.