AHRQ’s Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit a Popular Resource Among Medical Professionals in Rural Kentucky

Prevention and Care Management
June 2014

The Southern Kentucky Area Health Education Center used AHRQ's Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit to provide health literacy training to nearly 280 medical professionals at a series of educational sessions held at their workplaces over a one-year period.

Dwain Harris, M.H.A., the center's director, says, "We wanted to offer an easy-to-use method of assessment and solutions that could be customized to meet the individual needs of each practice, to improve health communication, and, we hope, improve the quality of care and health outcomes."

The AHRQ health literacy toolkit offers primary care practices a way to assess their services for health literacy considerations, raise awareness among the entire staff, and work on specific areas needing improvement.

"We were driven by the desire to do more to promote health literacy in the medical community in rural southern Kentucky," explains Harris.

The AHRQ health literacy toolkit was the centerpiece of a grant proposal, "Assess, Connect, Empower (ACE) Health Literacy Project," prepared by the Southern Kentucky Area Health Education Center. It was later funded by the Humana Foundation.  

Though initially designed for physicians' offices, the ACE program was expanded and offered to hospital and public health department physicians, dentists, dental hygienists, nurses, and physician assistants.

"We encouraged all staff members who have contact with patients to participate and benefit from improved communication and health literacy skills," Harris says. "They received continuing education credits as part of the performance improvement project."

Using the training steps from the AHRQ health literacy toolkit, the educational sessions offered participants a general overview of health literacy issues, a self-assessment survey that helped them identify areas needing improvement, and then a reassessment survey of their performance after using the new health literacy techniques for at least four weeks.

"Overall, all 15 medical practices completing the assessments showed remarkable improvements in the two or three areas where they focused their attention," Harris reports.

The "teach-back" technique showed the largest overall improvement in health literacy, increasing about three-fold between the participants' initial survey (23 percent) to the reassessment survey (73 percent). With teach-back, medical professionals ask their patients to repeat back information as a way to assess whether they understood what was said.

Other health literacy techniques that significantly improved among medical professionals were encouraging patients to ask questions, using clear communication methods, and effectively using health educational materials.

The AHRQ health literacy toolkit also proved to be a popular conference topic.

"The Southern Kentucky Area Health Education Center presented the [AHRQ] health literacy toolkit at cardiology and pulmonary conferences that we hosted, as well as at the fourth annual Kentucky Health Literacy Conference and a health communications conference we cosponsored with Health Care Excel of Kentucky," Harris notes.

To learn more about the toolkit, visit http://www.ahrq.gov/professionals/quality-patient-safety/quality-resources/tools/literacy-toolkit/index.html.

Impact Case Study Identifier: 
AHRQ Product(s): Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit
Topics(s): Health Literacy, Prevention
Geographic Location: Kentucky
Implementer: Southern Kentucky Area Health Education Center
Date: 06/27/2014
Page last reviewed June 2014
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