Case Studies

Addressing Health Literacy at the Bedside

Pinnacle Health System 
Harrisburg, PA
599 Beds

The Problem
Health systems are no longer simply asked to  deliver health care services, but are also required to engage patients in their care. Data is currently emerging suggesting patients are getting “lost” in the health care systems. Efforts throughout the Pinnacle Health system were employed to assist patients in navigating and understanding their care. Yet, patients continued to report average satisfaction levels through HCAHPS reports. Patients who were readmitted to the health system reported difficulty understanding and engaging in medical instruction.

Limited data is available that addresses the skills nurses need to know to effectively communicate with patients at the bedside. Even less data is available that supports educational initiatives for health literacy within health systems.

The Solution
Pinnacle Health started having the health literacy conversation in late 2011. The objective was to increase staff awareness and education and provide a more health literate environment for care. Beginning with a few subject-matter enthusiasts, the health literacy message was delivered to staff through global awareness education. After this step, the core team pressed the need for health literacy intiatives to the executive team, knowing staff education initiatives on the teach-back method were the next step. In-person training courses and online computer learning were offered to staff at all levels.

The Result
Leadership and staff are now hearing the message surrounding health literacy. Health literacy and teach-back are common words both at the bedside and in the boardroom. Previously siloed groups are coming together for the coordination and benefit of the patient. Patient satisfaction scores related to communication are steadily on the rise. In addition, health literacy is being considered in new product review. The conversation continues at all levels, in meeting development and patient care. Representatives from all areas of the health system are joining together to walk the journey toward a more health literate organization.

Lessons Learned
Start the conversation - and keep having it! Begin with staff training, and align that with patient education product review, organizational access improvement and add on documentation to supplement it all. It's a journey to be a more health literate organization - but we only get there one step at a time!

Contact Information
Katie Shradley, BS, RN, CVRN-BC
Staff Development Instructor
(717) 782-5912


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