Create questionnaires to assess communications

Take every opportunity to raise awareness

Questionnaires for staff and patients are one way to assess an organization's health communications, according to Sandra Cornett, RN, PhD, director AHEC Clear Health Communication Program Office of Outreach & Engagement, The Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus, OH.

A questionnaire Cornett created for staff covered the institution's promotion and publicity; telephone communication; printed materials; verbal communication; and awareness of literacy issues.

Staff were presented with statements and allowed to assess the organization's status on each by choosing one of four responses: "We are not doing this'; "we are doing this, but could improve"; "we are doing this well"; "does not apply to our hospital."

In the promotion and publicity category statements included:

• When we give directions for finding the hospital, we refer to familiar landmarks.

• Clear signs and symbols direct people from the front door of the building to the department they need.

• We promote the hospital in ways that adults with low literacy skills can use to learn about our programs/services.

Statements pertaining to telephone communication included:

• If there is an automated phone system, it offers the option of repeating parts of the message.

• Callers can receive information in a language other than English if needed.

To assess print materials, statements included:

• Our print materials are written in simple and clear language.

• Technical jargon or scientific terms are avoided in materials we write for the general public.

• We consult with people who are outside of the hospital for feedback on written materials we prepare.

In the verbal communication category, statements included:

• We have audio or videotapes to help patients review and remember information we give them.

• We talk to patients in ways that are adapted to their needs.

• We continually check that our patients have understood information we give to them.

To assess awareness of literacy issues, statements included:

• We ask all patients whether they want help filling out forms.

• We make it easy for our patients who want to bring a friend or family member.

Once an assessment is done, the information should be used to raise awareness and enlist management support.

There are other ways to raise awareness on health literacy issues. Patient education managers might educate decision-makers about the impact of low health literacy on health outcomes. They also can evaluate the reading level of materials used within an organization and compare it to the populations served. Obtaining data on patient satisfaction with health communications also can show a need for improvement within an organization and raise awareness.