We need to do better at screening for—and mitigating—illiteracy

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  1. Yona Lunsky

    Thank you for this important piece.

    Some people who can’t read may also have disabilities that make reading difficult, but may be embarrassed to say so. In the UK, all health information needs to be accessible to everyone, so documentation is also put into Easy Read format. This cite has some great health care resources including easy read documents and videos, which are another helpful way to share information.


    • Carolyn Thomas

      Thanks for the link to the Easy Read resources, Yona. I opened the Coronary Heart Disease tab (my own diagnosis) to check it out. Lots of very basic, clear info, plus good pictures. But some of the terms would still be tough for those with low literacy levels to decipher (e.g. a list of heart meds that includes words like “nitrates, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers” – which would be challenging for anybody who has never had to take them, regardless of literacy skills!

      The list of heart attack symptoms is significantly incomplete – essentially, just chest pain, left arm pain and swollen feet. (Swollen feet?!) And I’d still have to know how to read pretty well just to navigate the menu to find the long lists of documents or videos I needed to see.

      Simplifying and clarifying is indeed important, but so is accurate information – and only information that really needs to be there. I think this is a good start, but it also seems to absolve the front line health care professional from learning to communicate clearly in the first place in a patient-friendly, jargon-free fashion.

  2. Sandy Iverson

    Almost all hospitals, including St. Michael’s Hospital, have collections of patient education materials that are free and reflect local clinical practises, unlike UptoDate which is NOT available for all clinicians, very expensive, not reflective of the Canadian or local reality, and generally written at a high literacy level. For more information and access to an extensive collection of reliable health information for patients and their families designed with plain language principles by those trained in adult education that takes issues like literacy into consideration please see: http://www.stmichaelshospital.com/learn/ and click on Health Search.

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