North Carolina AHEC Program
fall 2011 newsletter | home

Wake AHEC Partners on Performance Improvement Project on Health Literacy

Wake AHEC makes a determined effort to include specific information about health literacy in its programs and services regardless of topic. This “literacy” refers to the ability to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate decisions. Over a third of patients have limited health literacy, which results in their not understanding what they need to do to take care of their health. As a result, health care providers and patients face many challenges in delivering and receiving vital information that will allow optimal opportunities for accurate treatment and follow through with care.

Nora WestRecently, Wake AHEC had the opportunity to partner with the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health to implement a performance improvement project in health literacy in primary care as a model for future efforts. Nora West (photo right), an MPH student from the School, worked with Wake AHEC’s Improving Performance In Practice Quality Improvement Consultant, Lynne Taylor, BSN, RN, CPGQ.

Roxboro Family Medicine & Immediate Care in Person County volunteered to participate in the project. West utilized the Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit to ensure that appropriate systems are in place to promote better understanding by all patients, not just those one thinks needs extra assistance.

The project began with all staff participating in an anonymous assessment of how the practice views health literacy in its current state, identifying areas of need or omission. Results of the assessment identified areas of opportunity for growth including communication, language barriers, written materials and patient feedback. These results were shared with all participants in the practice. Collaboratively, the group worked to identify their first step to improving health literacy in the practice.

Based on the survey, West worked with the practice owner at Roxboro Family Medicine & Immediate Care and her staff to identify specific needs in health literacy and develop and implement one change in communication with patients to improve health literacy and provider/patient relationships. Each patient was provided a piece of paper with three lines and instructed to write down the questions that he or she had for the provider while they wait. The providers were tasked with ensuring that they asked for the paper when seeing the patient and discuss/answer/and get feedback as needed before letting the patient leave. While this small change may seem simple, at the end of the day, both patients and staff reported much satisfaction and feelings of success in having a better flow of information resulting in patients leaving with clearer information.

West also developed a presentation for the practice on health literacy and invited other practices in Person County to participate. The session provided credit for physicians, nurses and other staff, and multiple resources (posters, pamphlets, etc.) for participants to take back to their practices. Two practices participated with 15 in attendance.

The practice plans to continue to use the Toolkit and take steps to implement other areas on their list of needs in an effort to ensure that they promote health literacy throughout their patient population. Wake AHEC will continue to follow their progress and assist as needed.

This project was made possible with funds received by Wake AHEC from the Carolina Geriatric Education Center (CGEC), Center for Aging and Health, UNC School of Medicine.