How leading healthcare organizations are filling the gaps in health literacy

October 25, 2022 |  Patient Engagement, Health IT, Social Determinants

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Promoting health literacy across communities and populations is a goal shared by all of us in healthcare. Health literacy protects against disease, prevents avoidable health complications, and promotes a higher quality of personal healthcare. Proactive steps to increase a patient’s understanding of medication and recovery needs can be the defining factor in reaching a successful outcome. The month of October shines a special spotlight on this pressing challenge as we recognize Health Literacy Month.

The CDC recently updated its definition of health literacy in 2020 to include not only personal health literacy, but also organizational responsibility to address health literacy and adopt a public health perspective. Furthermore, the CDC emphasizes an individual’s ability to use health information to make more informed decisions. Only once these aims have been accomplished can health equity become possible.

Fortunately, there are numerous public resources available to help reach your health literacy and health equity goals. We recommend the CDC’s resource page, Understanding Health Literacy. It’s also beneficial to understand how Social Determinants of Health (SDOH), also referred to as Health Related Social Needs, can sometimes lead to gaps in health literacy. 

Social determinants of health are conditions within an individual’s environment that limit access to quality healthcare and education, and negatively impact a person’s economic status, both of which can produce a number of health risks. The CDC identifies a connection between SDOH and health literacy. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education discovered in 2006 that adults who report the worst health also present the most insufficient grasp of health literacy knowledge

Being Proactive with EHRs

MEDITECH offers healthcare organizations solutions to proactively identify opportunities for care gap closure, as well as address social determinants of health

Whether the challenges are due to age, technology barriers, preferred language, or a condition that impairs cognitive abilities, Expanse Care Compass equips care managers with tools to increase patient engagement, especially within communities limited by SDOH. The preferred approach of each individual patient can be shared across care management teams through the Care Manager Bulletin Board. This ensures that information to be shared with the patient is presented in a format offering the greatest likelihood of success. 

The expansive functionalities of patient registries establish a unique and tailored approach to communication, allowing for the facilitation of health literacy. Determining patients with limited access to or understanding of resources can be easier than you may think. Providers can create a cohort of patients with similar identifying factors, including a deficiency in health literacy. By identifying at-risk patients and gaps in care, our Patient Registries allow organizations to take a more proactive approach to challenging the barriers of SDOH.

Health Literacy Proponents in Practice

The theme of addressing health literacy was top of mind during our recent MEDITECH LIVE 22 event. We heard from First Databank Senior Director Dr. Charles Lee on health literacy’s impact on health outcomes. 

Known for providing “the world’s most trusted database,” MEDITECH collaborative vendor First Databank is passionate about improving a common health literacy issue: medication adherence. Along with many other credible supporters, First Databank advocates for the Universal Medication Schedule (UMS) methodology. 

First Databank has incorporated the UMS methodology into their actionable calendars and translation services, to defeat challenges associated with language barriers and a patient’s complex medication regimens and timetables,  according to Dr. Lee. Their practices include translating multiple diverse ways that medication instruction can be expressed, and utilizing pictograms on labels to promote correct dosing, in order to form a cohesive and uniform method of expression for all medications.

Also at MEDITECH LIVE, our customers shared ways they have been working with MEDITECH to confront the challenges of SDOH when delivering care to their communities. Frederick Health worked with MEDITECH to incorporate a SDOH screen into their workflow to help inform decisions within their physician practices. Beth Israel Lahey Health is working with MEDITECH Professional Services to develop a SDOH and interventions platform.

A deficiency in health literacy or increased risk of SDOH is not a one size fits all issue, cautioned Christina Wolf, MSN, RN, CNL, Executive Director, Population Health & Care Continuum, at Lawrence General Hospital. She highlighted the important role organizations are tasked with to challenge stereotypes in order to provide full scale care to every individual in the community.

Indeed, the challenges can be complex and we are with you on this journey. We hope you feel as inspired as we do about improving health literacy, after reviewing the CDC’s resources and hearing about customer and collaborative initiatives. Make October the month you resolve to improve health literacy!

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Written by Kate Jenkins-Brown, EdD, Product Manager, Population Health Management, MEDITECH

Kate is responsible for overseeing the strategic incorporation of AI into our Expanse solutions and the development of MEDITECH's population health platform including our ambulatory care management solution, Expanse Care Compass. As part of her role, Kate stays engaged in the latest industry topics on AI innovation and governance to guide MEDITECH’s direction with new technology. On behalf of MEDITECH, Kate serves as the co-Chair for the EHRA SDOH Taskforce and participates in the Gravity Project community meetings which are designed to identify terminology and interoperability standards that allow for actionable communication of the social determinants that affect health outcomes.
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