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Improve health literacy with presentations
Keep in mind terms of engagement
To address the issue of low health literacy, The Humana Foundation is seeking ways to engage consumers at presentations on the subject. Presenters have been particularly successful with seniors, by dumping the PowerPoint and capturing the attention of this group of consumers through interaction.
"Interaction is a powerful tool for engagement," says Charles Jackson, project manager for The Humana Foundation, based in Louisville, KY.
To engage an audience of seniors gathered for lunch at a Senior Center, Jackson and presenter Ken Schulz, a consultant for Human MarketPoint, used a skit to introduce the topic.
"We performed misdirection on our audience, and that was a good thing. They thought they were going to get a lecture, and we delivered a play. I believe it caught them by surprise and allowed them to let their guard down a little. It was fun to be at a play and not a study hall," explains Schultz.
Seniors often worry about their health problems, yet they don't ask the physician questions, says Jackson. He explains that seniors are often overwhelmed by doctors as authority figures and by a complex health system. Many seniors also face chronic multiple health problems, with a lot of time to worry about possible consequences. Many factors encourage silence, including fear, embarrassment, confusion, poor vision or hearing, and low health literacy.
The presentation that included the skit was designed to help seniors improve health literacy by obtaining basic health information they can understand and using the information to make good decisions.
Part of that process is making sure they understand what their physician tells them and then suggesting they ask questions to clarify health issues and recommended treatment methods.
To highlight the importance of asking questions during a doctor's visit, Schulz took on the role of Dr. Ken. He asked a member of the audience to volunteer as the patient. Dr. Ken presented the patient with a large bottle of pills the size of ping-pong balls with a long name in fake Latin. The pills would hopefully take care of the mysterious pain in the patient's side.
The patient had one line, which was printed on a card: "But Dr. Ken, I am worried."
Dr. Ken would reassure the patient. He told the patient to come back in a month.
The skit was used to engage the audience. Schulz and Jackson, who were presenting the topic of health literacy, asked the audience if the patient felt better or worse after leaving the physician's office. According to Jackson, the answers varied. However, when they asked the audience what the patient should have asked the doctor, they got several good questions. For example: "How will these pills interact with my other medication?"; "Is this a generic medication?"; "What is my prognosis?"; "What is causing my pain?"; "Is this an experimental drug?"
The skit demonstrated the importance of asking questions, instead of silently and needlessly worrying, says Jackson.
Following the skit, the presenters covered additional ways audience members could get the information they needed on a health topic to make good decisions about health care, says Jackson. For example, the group leaders recommended talking to the pharmacist about medications and going to the reference desk at the public library to find information. Also, The Humana Foundation sponsors a website (www.wellzone.org) that has health information, which was shared with the seniors.
Discussion part of interaction
The skit was used to introduce the topic and prompt discussion on ways to become more health literate. Seniors were encouraged to tell their stories and share their ideas.
Jackson explains that interaction mirrored the active role the audience was being encouraged to take in their health care. Rather than remain passive listeners, they were to ask questions of the physician and be aggressive in looking for information.
However, there is a downside to encouraging audience participation, warns Schulz. Audience members may want to share long monologues about personal medical histories. To avoid losing members of the audience who do not relate to the particular problem of the storyteller, determine what the person is saying and give a summary. To re-engage the audience, spin the information into a question, says Schulz.
To help involve the audience, use a simple, matter-of-fact approach and make points with the use of stories. For example, Jackson says he tells a story from his childhood to describe the futility of needless worry. He shares the story that as a child, after swallowing a blue string, he worried for days that he would die or have to go to the hospital. He tells his audience that adults can carry around blue strings.
The presenters also share a Swedish proverb that says people can cut their worries in half by sharing them with someone.
Also used is the simple analogy of buying a pair of shoes, says Jackson. The person wearing the shoes is the only one who knows if they are really comfortable. Likewise, patients are the experts about what is going on with their body and must provide the information for the physician.
"Don't mix right-brain, emotional issues and left-brain, instructional issues at the same time," advises Jackson.
Information is relayed through anecdotes and stories rather than statistics, says Jackson. Then at the end of the presentation, a simple handout is provided with a few points the presenters want the audience to remember.
Charles Jackson, Project Manager, Humana Foundation, 500 W. Main St., Louisville, KY 40202. Telephone: (502) 580-1245. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.