Hospital adopts health literacy initiative
Like many medical centers, Presbyterian Hospital Matthews has been noticing a common problem among patients: a lack of health literacy.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports nine out of 10 patients do not receive health-related information in a way they can understand and put it to use. And according to the National Patient Safety Foundation, patients with low health literacy skills have a 50 percent increased risk of hospitalization.
In hopes of improving those odds, Presbyterian Matthews has adopted the “Ask Me 3” initiative, a nationwide movement that uses three simple questions patients should be asking: 1) “What is my main problem?” 2) “What do I need to do about it?” and 3) “Why is it important for me to do this?”
The initiative, created by the Partnership for Clear Health communication, was launched at Presbyterian Matthews about 18 months ago. All employees – clinical and nonclinical – were taught this concept and how to use it.
The hospital is promoting the program among patients through signs posted in every patient room and cards given to patients in the Emergency Room that list the three questions and encourage patients to ask their healthcare providers each question.
The hospital also is working on organizing all educational material in the Ask Me 3 format and changing discharge paperwork to incorporate the initiative.
“We’re adding it gradually into every department,” said Brenda Schooley, senior director of patient care services.
One of the common problems medical centers are seeing is a lack of patient knowledge regarding prescriptions. Only about 50 percent of patients take their medications as directed, officials say.
When learning about Ask Me 3, Schooley heard about a diabetic person not from this area who came to the ER multiple times with blood sugar problems. He appeared to be taking the right amount of insulin at the right time. When someone asked him to demonstrate how he took his insulin, he injected it into an orange and ate the orange. Insulin was injected into an orange during a demonstration on how to inject insulin and the patient didn’t know he was supposed to give himself, not an orange, a shot, Schooley said.
“No wonder his blood sugar was all over the place,” she said, adding that extra demonstrations are important to ensure medication is taken properly.
In addition to not knowing how to take their medications, patients often don’t know why they’re taking them.
“Patients can’t always tell you what their medications are for,” Schooley said. “They may say they’re taking a heart pill that’s red and white and round, and that’s all they know.”
To alleviate this problem, the hospital has had pharmacy technicians working closely with clinical staff to thoroughly explain medications to patients. Vital information, such as the medicine’s indications, correct dosage and side effects, is often misunderstood or forgotten, Schooley said.
The hospital also provides dry erase boards in every patient room, so patients can write down any questions they have and get answers when clinical staff members make their rounds.
Hospital staff have already seen the results of Ask Me 3 in returning patients who are now able to articulate questions much more efficiently than before, and some physicians offices attached to the hospital have embraced the concept as well, Schooley said.
“It’s a wake up call for other people in healthcare,” she said.