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Improving Communication and Numeracy Skills

In this model, programs work to improve individual patient communication, including numeracy skills. Communication skills, including written and spoken communication, are imperative for interpreting and comprehending health information to manage patients' healthcare needs. Improving these skills helps individuals search for health information and ask questions regarding their health and well-being.

Print-based materials, such as visual aids, can help individuals easily read and digest health information. Use of illustrations, images, informational graphics, and videos are all tools for helping patients understand the content of a message. Adapting materials in this way has been shown to increase health knowledge and health literacy for both adults and children.

In addition, the ability to understand numbers and access, use, and interpret numerical information is imperative for health literacy and absorbing medical information. Enhancing numeracy skills and developing materials and resources that use appealing visual design can aid in improving overall communication skills. Common numeracy skills, which programs may wish to focus on improving, can be applied in healthcare or other settings and include:

  • Counting or understanding hierarchal values for medication adherence
  • Using basic calculations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division)
  • Comprehending dosage
  • Reading medication labels accurately
  • Understanding times and days for medication administration
  • Reading graphs, tables, and measurements
  • Understanding and absorbing proportions or probability for disease management and risk

Prompting patients to ask questions can help them feel empowered in their health decision-making, take better care of their health and well-being, and understand any health conditions. Numeracy skills can particularly build self-efficacy among patients with chronic diseases and other underlying health conditions. Improved oral and print health literacy can empower patients and improve disease self-management.

Examples of Programs that Improve Communication and Numeracy Skills

  • Wisconsin Health Literacy offers a program called the Health Literacy and Consumer Engagement Project, which helps patients become more involved in their healthcare decisions and more effectively use healthcare services.
  • Wisconsin Health Literacy also offers Youth Health Literacy Materials to improve communication skills among younger patients and consumers. These materials improve health literacy among high school students.
  • Ask Me 3® is an educational program by the Partnership for Clear Health Communication at the National Patient Safety Foundation. The program encourages patients and families to better understand their health conditions by asking healthcare providers three specific questions: 1) What is my main problem? 2) What do I need to do? 3) Why is it important for me to do this? Answers to these questions can build self-efficacy among rural patients. Empowering patients to take control of their health and understand their rights as a patient is one aspect of improving health literacy.

Program Clearinghouse Examples

Implementation Considerations

Some programs that have successfully improved communication and numeracy skills using print-based materials, visual aids, and graphics have enlisted the help of content designers with expertise in instructional design. Programs may be able to identify community members or other organizations with these types of design skills to help develop appropriate educational materials. With all the health information that can be easily accessed online, it may be more challenging to identify reliable health information. Programs that focus on improving consumers' communication skills can help individuals feel better prepared to more easily sift through accurate and inaccurate information.

Resources to Learn More

Strategies to Enhance Numeracy Skills
Offers effective strategies for use by health professionals, health systems, and health plans when communicating numerical information to patients regarding diseases, treatments, prevention, deductibles, and covered services and medicines.
Authors: Pleasant, A., Rooney, M., O'Leary, C., Myers, L., & Rudd, R.
Organization(s): National Academy of Medicine
Date: 5/2016

Take Charge of Your Health: Understanding Cancer Research and Health Literacy
Webinar discussing what health literacy is and how it impacts health. Offers skills useful to help individuals understand cancer studies, obtain relevant resources, and prepare for physician appointments.
Date: 2021