Blog: A snapshot of the work of an Irish hospital based health literacy committee

What is the problem?

It can be difficult for many patients, especially those with low health literacy, to understand health information and to access and use hospital services. We wanted to make it easier for everyone to use hospital services by promoting clear communication and reducing communication barriers. Clear communication can be written, like signs, letters and leaflets, or conversations between staff, patients and their families.

Our health literacy Committee:

It all began in 2015 when we set up a Health Literacy Committee with our local hospital. Our committee is made up of multidisciplinary staff from the hospital and academic staff from the local university with a special interest in health literacy. Service user representation (patient council members) is also an important part of our committee. We meet on a monthly basis. Over the past 3 years we have been busy working on a number of activities to advance our goal to make our local hospital a more health literacy friendly organisation for all its service users.

Some activities we have undertaken to make our hospital a more health literacy friendly organisation:

  • We developed a clear plan of activities using a logic model.
  • The logic model allowed us to set out our resources, needed inputs and the outcomes we wanted to achieve.
  • We developed a hospital policy to help staff develop clear and accessible written patient information materials (PIMs).

Hospital policy:

We now have a hospital policy to help staff to develop clear and accessible written patient information materials (PIMs). The policy contains a number of important resources to assist staff in developing their PIMs. These include:

  1. An 8 step flowchart to guide the user from starting point (such as reviewing what materials may already be available) all the way through to review of draft materials by service users and final management sign-off.
  2. A basic Dos and Don’ts sheet. This contains useful tips such as how to limit medical jargon, use the active voice, have shorter sentences and paragraphs, and general tips on layout and formatting.
  3. A checklist, drawing on the CDC’s Clear Communication Index (CDC, 2014) to allow users to score the material against standards of best practice. We aim for a minimum score of 80% which must be achieved before management sign off on the new PIM.

Recent achievements

  • We co-ordinated the roll out of plain English training for hospital staff (to date approximately 80 staff have availed of this).
  • We revised outpatient letters with improvements in clarity and accessibility. On average approximately 5000 of these are sent out weekly to service users.
  • We have developed and implemented participatory PIM development workshops for staff where the policy resources are used to develop new/update existing PIMs.
  • We have also raised awareness at hospital level about the limitations of current navigation/signage systems. Steps are now underway to implement a new navigation system.

Our Experience

We have found that a hospital based committee is necessary to progress work towards making our local hospital environment more health literacy friendly Also we have found that the inclusion of service user representation (such as patient councils) is essential to ensuring that the work carried out is relevant for all service users.

Important to remember!

We have found that patience by all involved is needed as sometimes even seemingly small changes can take time to complete. This is due to the size and complexity of the hospital organisation. It is also important to celebrate your achievements!