The Emergency Room (ER) can be a challenging experience for all patients. However, it is even more challenging for patients with low health literacy skills. Research has demonstrated a higher use of emergency room services among patients with low health literacy. A thorough health literacy assessment of your Emergency Room can enhance patient safety and outcomes and have real results for the hospital facility in terms of improved financial returns.
Obviously, people who are making their way to your Emergency Room are likely ill or injured. Providing a welcoming environment begins with clear signage that make it easy to access your facility and also navigate through it once there.
Make the experience respectful—of different cultural norms, language skills and physical capabilities.
Workforce health literacy knowledge
Train your staff on effective communication and key health literacy principles. Review and revise written materials that patients are asked to complete and also the materials that patients takes home with them.
Once health literacy principles are integrated into Emergency Rooms, we find that the staff communicates more effectively, the patients have a better understanding of what the staff explained and this directly improves patient understanding, experience, and outcomes.
Don’t overlook the financial side of enhancing
For patients, being in the ER is an anxious time, especially for those that are uninsured and feel uneasy about how they will pay for services. It can be a difficult time to explain future health insurance options and responsibilities. Integrating health literacy principles within the ER can support and streamline the process to improve the financial outcome for both the patient and the healthcare organization.
This scenario may be a familiar and recurring issue at your ER. Often when uninsured patients show up in the ER, they are asked to complete paperwork so that they can be contacted after discharge regarding offerings for possible insurance coverage or payment plans. Unfortunately, when a representative calls the patient at a later date, the patient often shares that they had already filled out the paperwork for this while in the ER. The initial communication with staff or the written information provided during their time in the ER was not clear.
Once an initial health literacy assessment is completed, opportunities are identified to enhance and integrate health literacy principles. All Emergency Department staff are educated about the effects of low health literacy and provided with the tools and skills they need to partner with patients to improve their health literacy.
Afterwards, we find that the staff communicates more effectively and the patients have a better understanding of what paperwork and forms they were completing. This combination improves effective communication and streamlines financial reimbursements—a win-win for all.
If you would like more information about assessing, integrating and improving health literacy processes within your organization’s Emergency Room, please feel free to reach out to me by email or phone at (516) 528-6485.