Health Literacy Consulting How-To Tip
August 2014

How Health Literacy Helps Make Health Care Safer: What Patients Can Do

Health literacy happens when clinicians and other professionals communicate health information in ways that patients and the public can easily understand. The goal is that patients not only know what to do but also understand why taking a specific health action is important. Here are strategies that make it easier and safer for patients to act on health information.

  • Prepare for your appointment. Make the most of the brief time you have with the clinician by figuring out ahead of time what you want to discuss. Make a list of your concerns and bring this list to each appointment. Bring a pen too, so that you can write notes about what you learned. Later at home, you can refer to these notes and be more certain about what you are supposed to do.
  • Ask someone to go with you to the appointment. This is especially important if you think that the clinician will be talking about upsetting news or complicated instructions. Ask the other person to serve as your “extra set of eyes and ears” and talk with you later about what was discussed during the appointment.
  • Ask questions. One of the best ways for patients to know what to do is by asking questions. But during appointments, it can be hard to think of what to ask. Many patients like to start with this list of three questions from AskMe3: 1) What is my main problem? 2) What do I need to do? 3) Why do I need to do it?
  • Make sure you understand correctly. The clinician will almost certainly tell you a lot of information. Much of it may be new, complicated, or confusing. Make sure you correctly understand before leaving the appointment. A good way is by saying something like this: “I want to make sure I understand these directions correctly. When you said, “Do _­­­________, does this mean that I should __________?” 

Ways to learn more:

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