Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research: Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit

This toolkit from the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research is designed for physicians and other clinicians to take a “universal precautions” approach to health literacy, using improved communication techniques to verify and confirm patient understanding.  Health literacy is the ability to obtain, process, and understand health information to make informed decisions about health care.  Over one-third of the adult population in the U.S. has limited health literacy, meaning that they have basic or below basic health literacy levels.

Experts recommend assuming that everyone may have difficulty understanding and creating an environment where patients of all literacy levels can thrive. In the case of health literacy universal precautions, primary care practices should ensure that systems are in place to promote better understanding for all patients, not just those you think need extra assistance. Improving patient understanding is beneficial for the patient and health care provider. Research suggests that clear communication practices and removing literacy-related barriers will improve care for all patients regardless of their level of health literacy.

The toolkit includes twenty tools that providers can use to improve communication with all patients, including tools to improve spoken communication, written communication, self-management and empowerment, and supportive systems.

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