March 2, 2012

What it feels like to have low health literacy

Imagine you’re naked. Ok well, I guess not fully naked, but pret'near (that's how my grandma says "pretty near") naked because all you’re wearing is a loose fitting hospital robe. You feel sick, stressed, and have been in the hospital for several hours. In rushes your doctor, speaking quickly and preparing to send you on your way. She hands you a piece of paper and says, “read this and let me know if you have any questions.”

The paper reads: 
Check the reppu and rewol rotaidar sesoh along with the smaller retemaid heater sesoh. Inspect each esoh along its entire htgnel, and ecalper any esoh that is dekcarc, nellows, or shows sngis of noitaroireted. If you ezeeuqs the esoh, skcarc may become more tnerappa. Make sure the esoh snoitcennoc are thgit. You may see etihw or tsur deroloc stisoped on the areas dnuora the kael.

Now, without cheating by looking back at what you've just read, try to answer these questions. 
  1. What is this passage about?
  2. What do you need to do first?
  3. Where are those hoses?
  4. For what are you inspecting the hoses? 
How did you do? Were you able to answer these questions?

How did you FEEL while reading the instructions?
I imagine you had a hard time reading this passage. Many of you may have given up, thinking, “This is stupid. These aren’t even real words.” Or maybe you got frustrated because it was difficult, and that’s why you gave up.

If you did crack the code, congratulations! It wasn’t actually Russian…the words are just spelled backwards! But for those of you who cracked the code and finished the paragraph, I imagine you still struggled to answer some of the questions.

This is how a low literate or low health literate individual feels when handed paperwork in the waiting or exam room. When we are required to concentrate on individual words – struggling to pronounce and understand their meaning or in this case, concentrating on reconfiguring the spelling of a word in our head – by the time they get the end of the sentence or passage, there is little hope for comprehension.

We use this exercise in our Effective Communication trainings for healthcare providers and I really like it because it’s a great way for us to better understand how it feels for so many of our learners and patients when they are handed consent forms, discharge instructions, or other written materials in the healthcare setting.

Want to learn more about our health literacy initiative? Check out our website and email me so we can discuss. You can also follow me on twitter for the most interesting 140 character updates you'll ever read. 

1 comment:

  1. GREAT blog post. I felt like I was put in the shoes (or hospital gown, as the case may be) of the individual the LCCT works to support. There are so many areas where ineffective communication with low literate people can be harmful. For some--like our clients--it might be on the phone with a financial aid office. Thanks for sharing!