A Pilot Program to Promote Every Day Health Literacy Tools

May 3, 2023 by Sasha Smith, MPH

Health begins with understanding. Health literacy, is defined as the degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others. More simply put, it’s the principle that in order to live healthy lives, people must understand how to access healthcare and act on the instructions of their providers. Health literacy was identified by Washington D.C. community members as one of our most pressing community needs in the 2016 and 2019 community health needs assessments.

Health literacy impact every aspect of someone’s life. For parents, it’s even more daunting. Parents are tasked with managing their child’s healthcare, juggling appointments, and carrying out the instructions from their child’s providers, which often includes medication, follow up appointments, or monitoring symptoms.

The healthcare environment is one that is often stressful, especially for parents who have to manage their child and understand instructions from their child’s provider all at once.

A Simple Health Literacy Principle Put Into Action

Patient family educator, nurse Wayne Neal has worked at Children’s for over 25 years. In her time at Children’s she’s cared for thousands of families and educated thousands of nurses. An expert in health literacy, Wayne knew that good health began with good understanding.

Using the simple health literacy principles of writing down information and encouraging questions, Wayne began a pilot project at the Prince George’s County out-patient center to promote patient understanding. In the pilot project, Wayne approached parents in the waiting room, gave them a notebook and pen, and encouraged them to use the book to write down instructions from their provider. After the appointment, she connected again with the families in the hallway to ask how it went.

The response blew Wayne away, universally, the parents said the notebook was incredibly helpful. Many parents were caring for children with chronic conditions and said this notebook could now serve as a dedicated place to jot down notes about appointments and medication. “This is absolutely perfect,” said one parent after her appointment, “I can’t wait to use it again, I’ll keep it in my car and use it for all the appointments.”

While in the clinic, Wayne doesn’t just interact with the parents, she also plays health literacy trivia games with nurses at the nurse’s station, providing education, tips, tricks, and encouragement.

Wayne plans to expand the pilot program to other locations and units. She hopes to eventually have notebooks and pens readily available for all parents and nurses and educators who are trained to encourage the use of them. Health literacy is a complicated topic, but sometimes, the simplest solutions are the most effective. Next time you or a patient is feeling overwhelmed with information, try picking up a pen.

Header photo by Jan Kahánek on Unsplash

About the author

Sasha Smith, MPH

Community Education Specialistwithin the Child Health Advocacy Institute at Children's National Hospital