Health Literacy: Enhancing Patient Engagement

Health Literacy: Enhancing Patient Engagement

During the past 3 years, we at Dialysis Clinic, Inc., have focused on providing care for all patients with kidney disease with the goal to reach out to them, wherever they are, and work with them to empower them to live the life they want to live, without allowing kidney disease to get in the way of their life dreams. For most patients with kidney disease, the best way to have optimal quality of life is to avoid dialysis. Therefore, our primary goal for treating patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) is to avoid dialysis or delay its start.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a complex medical condition that requires multiple self-management strategies including the ability to understand, implement, and maintain clinical recommendations and self-care treatment strategies (1). Heart disease, diabetes mellitus, and nephropathies are among the top 10 causes of death, with rankings of 1, 7, and 9, respectively (2). CKD affects approximately 26 million American adults in the United States, whereas millions of others are at increased risk (3).

With all this talk about health literacy (HL), do people even know what the term means? After the Health Literacy Roundtable in March 2015, a short questionnaire was administered to 22 patients and six staff members in an effort to determine what patients and staff know about HL. The patients and staff were first asked if they had heard the term “health literacy.” If they responded “yes,” they were asked to describe the term in their own words.

In the ever-changing climate of health care, providers eagerly seek innovative approaches to actively engage patients and their families in their care. The Center for Advancing Health defines engagement as “actions individuals must take to obtain the greatest benefit from the health care services available to them.”

Health literacy research over the past 2 decades has shaped its definition, determined how it is assessed, and provided us with an initial understanding about how this concept significantly contributes to the connections among patients, families, health care providers, and health systems. We all strive to apply the most rigorous and contemporary evidence in the care of patients, and this is no different for practices related to health literacy.

This month, KN Editorial Board member and special section editor Glenda Payne interviewed Cindy Brach, MPP, lead for health literacy at the Agency Healthcare Research and Quality, about ways nephrology professionals can recognize issues in health literacy and more effectively bridge communication gaps.

Proficiency in health literacy is a critical ingredient in the outcomes of both the prevention and the treatment of kidney disease. Unfortunately, according to a US Department of Education report, only 12 percent of Americans are proficient in health literacy (1).

Hope Abides

Hope abides; therefore I abide.

Countless frustrations have not cowed me.

I am still alive, vibrant with life.

The black cloud will disappear,

The morning sun will appear once again

In all its supernal glory.

—by Sri Chinmoy Ghose

ASN Kidney News gratefully acknowledges the editor of this special section, Kidney News Editorial Board member Glenda Payne, MS, RN, CNN, for her contributions to the issue.