Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit
Health literacy represents the ability to understand and use health-related information and includes a person’s ability to read, write, and understand verbal communications related to health. Research suggests that difficulty understanding health information is linked to limited health knowledge, poor self-care behavior (e.g., managing medications), and negative clinical outcomes (e.g., higher mortality rates and greater use of emergency department care).
Although some patients are more likely to have limited health literacy skills – for example, elderly patients – nearly everyone struggles with health information and navigating the healthcare system. The good news is that providers can do a great deal to make things easier for their patients. The Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit was developed to guide primary care practices in making simple changes to their office environments and strategies for communicating with patients that can improve comprehension of health information among patients of all health literacy levels.
As part of this demonstration project, 12 primary care practices were selected to implement a subset of the tools included in the Toolkit. Practices implemented four tools over a 6-month period, collecting data about their office environments and healthcare processes during the month prior to and the month following implementation. The research team made two site visits to each participating practice, during which qualitative interviews addressing the implementation process were conducted. The data practices collected and the information they provided as part of the qualitative interviews allowed the research team to refine and improve the Toolkit at the conclusion of the project.
The specific aims of this project were to:
- To learn about the experiences of practices implementing the Toolkit, including what changes they are able to make and what challenges they face.
- To revise the Toolkit based on the experience of and input provided by participating practices.
This study is complete. Findings from the study will be published this year in the Journal of Ambulatory Care Management.
Primary care practices can take action to decrease the complexity of the healthcare environment. Making health information and instructions easier to understand will increase the likelihood of them being acted on.
Because limited health literacy is common and limitations are hard to recognize, experts recommend the use of health literacy universal precautions to simplify communications and confirming understanding for all patients.
The AHRQ Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit has been revised, based on recommendations from the AAFP National Research Network’s demonstration project, and provides evidence-based guidance to practices for implementing systems to better promote understanding by all patients.
The AAFP National Research Network is collaborating with the University of Colorado, School of Medicine, and the State Networks of Colorado Ambulatory Practices & Partners USA (SNOCAP-USA) to conduct this study.
For additional information about this study, please contact:
Research Project Manager
AAFP National Research Network
This project was funded by a grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.