Article Details

« Back

Patient literacy a key factor

Health leader visits summit.

 In the early days of Howard Koh’s more than 30-year medical career, he advised cancer patients coming to him for a second opinion on the current stage of their cancer, prognosis for recovery and treatment options — “and not much else.”
 
When he eventually learned to have more of a dialogue with patients, an approach barely covered in medical school, Koh said the health care experience was vastly improved for him and his patients.
 
“When I asked, ‘Tell me your understanding of what you have,’ I learned so much,” said Koh, assistant secretary for health with the Department of Health and Human Services. Koh was the keynote speaker today at the second annual Missouri Health Literacy Summit at the Hilton Garden Inn. “We need to be more patient-centered, not doctor-centered.”
 
Koh explained key aspects of the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act that focus on creating a health care system that is more patient-centered and geared more toward prevention, not just treatment.
 
He called on health care providers and public health officials to “meet people where they are and join them” in their care.
 
“We’re trying to help people not be patients in the first place,” he said, pointing out that the so-called teach-back method of doctors asking patients to repeat their understanding of medical instructions will require changing the culture of medicine. The health care reform law being implemented in stages aims to change the way doctors and providers interact with patients.
 
“It’s often pointed out in this country we have a sick care system, rather than a health care system,” Koh said.
 
Steve Pu, chairman of the Health Literacy Missouri board and medical director of Twin Rivers Regional Medical Center in Kennett, echoed Koh’s statement that the health care system needs to be more “user-friendly” and provide better access for patients, “not because they’re sick but because they want to stay healthy.”
 
Koh said decades of research and experience show that volumes of health information is presented in a way that is not usable and that health professionals often use acronyms and other language that doesn’t easily translate for patients. The result, he said, is “poor outcomes” from patients not understanding how to take medication or navigate the health care system.
 
Koh, a Korean-American, said he knows firsthand the challenge of struggling with communication. Improving communication is even more important, he said, as medical and public health professionals continue to learn how social factors can lead to disparities in treatment and prevention.
 
“Are people understanding what they’re hearing, and can they use that information to make health care decisions?” Koh asked his audience of medical and public health professionals. “We’re just at the beginning of a long journey. We have much work ahead of us.”
 
---

Search top vendors, suppliers, services providers & more