September 4, 2008

Project to Help Patients Make Better Health Care Decisions

By Rindfleisch, Terry

A local health literacy partnership has been formed to help patients better understand medical information from their health care providers. Gundersen Lutheran, Franciscan Skemp and the La Crosse Area Community Literacy Coalition have created the Great Rivers Partners for Health-E People, a pilot project in the La Crosse area.

Ruth Holst, associate director of the Great Midwest Region for the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, said the collaboration between competing health systems makes the project unique.

"In our 10-state region, this project could be a model for partnerships and other projects," Hoist said.

The project will target both patients and physicians with an online course for health care professionals and an online presentation for patients and families. It also will use DVD and MP3 players and iPods for patient education.

The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse also will incorporate health literacy in its health professions' curriculum.

Dr. Jeff Thompson, Gundersen Lutheran CEO, said health literacy is a major problem across the country. The pilot project should help patients make better and more appropriate health care decisions, Thompson said.

Lack of understanding leads to mistakes in taking medication and more inappropriate use of emergency departments, he said. The project is a "step toward a model" of raising the overall level of health literacy and health care.

The project is funded by a $35,000 grant from the National Library of Medicine, with additional funding by Gundersen Lutheran Medical Foundation and Southwest Wisconsin Area Health Education Center. The pilot began in March and will run through August 2009.

"It's not just about literacy, but it's about empowerment," said

Dr. Robert Nesse, Franciscan Skemp president and CEO.

Better understanding of medical information can help patients better manage their illnesses, Nesse said.

"In about 20 minutes, we can all learn to increase patients' satisfaction and compliance with instructions by using 'living room language' and simple explanations whenever possible," said Melinda Orebaugh, director of Gundersen Lutheran's library and health information services.


* Patients almost immediately forget up to 80 percent of medical information provided by health care practitioners. Almost half of the information that is remembered is incorrect.

* About 20 percent of American adults read at or below the fifth- grade level. However, most health information materials are written at the 10th grade level or above.

* Nearly half of all American adults have difficulty understanding and acting on health information. As a result, they get less preventive health care and are more likely to use expensive emergency services.

* Medication errors, excess hospitalizations, longer hospital stays, more use of emergency departments and a generally higher level of illness - all attributable to limited health literacy - add billions in excess cost to an already strained U.S. health care system.

Source: Great Rivers Partners for Health-E People

Copyright La Crosse Tribune Aug 6, 2008

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