An assessment of allopathic and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) provider's perceptions of their patients health literacy
Sokoloski, Michelle Morris
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The purpose of this study was to explore how allopathic and Complementary and Alternative Medicine CAM) clinicians address health literacy in their practices. The research questions guiding this study were 1.) How do clinicians convey complex health information to their patients? 2.) Do clinicians believe health literacy is the responsibility of the health care provider, the patient, or the health care system? 3.) Do allopathic and CAM clinicians think differently about where the responsibility rests? The research regarding the impact of low health literacy in the U.S. is prolific but the literature is less rich regarding what clinicians are doing to improve the literacy levels of their patients in their practices. The Institute of Medicine's Health Literacy model provided the underlying conceptual framework for this study. The data collection procedure was two focus group interviews of health care providers, one group of allopathic providers and the other group (CAM) providers. The results indicated that all clinicians used an educational strategy during their patient visits with the intent to improve their patients' health literacy. Common themes regarding the way clinicians present health information were identified based on discussions and comments during the focus groups. These themes are direct questioning, health contexts, trust development, educational materials, and analogies. The practice implications for this study include a) consider incorporating simple health literacy screening or measurement practices during every patient contact, b) openly support public health efforts to increase awareness of the prevalence and depth of limited health literacy at state and local levels c) conduct health literacy lectures in both professional and public forums to help decrease the roadblock of shame for individuals with limited literacy. The research implications of this study include a need for further research determining what clinicians and health care organizations are doing to embrace a health literacy agenda among private practitioners and the health care system. Further research exploring practical and effective ways to measure health literacy could improve clinician strategies to promote health literacy, numeracy, and language skills necessary for patients to become empowered as they navigate the health care system.