Low-literacy patients visual learners

Highlight booklets for easy reference

If you suspect that a patient has a reading problem, never just hand him or her a pamphlet — even if it is written at a low-literacy level. Instead, go through the publication with the patient, and mark the points in the booklet the patient needs to remember, advisesAudrey Riffenburgh, MA, a reading specialist and president of Riffenburgh and Associates in Albuquerque, NM.

"As you teach, tell them the information is also in the booklet. Show them the page and circle or underline the information so they can find it later," she says. Patients with limited reading skills should be able to go back and glean any facts they’ve forgotten. For example, if they can’t remember how often to change a bandage, they could look in the booklet. If the patient can’t read at all, he or she will be able to find the information marked so a family member or friend can read it.

Also, rely on visuals when teaching patients with low-literacy skills. Demonstrate techniques you want the patient to learn, and have him or her repeat the demonstration. Whenever possible, use models. "The more visual you can be when teaching people you suspect have low-literacy skills, the better your education," says Riffenburgh.