News | Published September 7, 2012

Mount Nittany Health - becoming a health literate organization

In her role as director of education, Susan Foster, MS, BSN, RN-BC, is an advocate of health literacy and is helping Mount Nittany Health work toward being a "health literate organization."

"Addressing health literacy is important for achieving the goals of patient-centered, equitable care through appropriate access to services and information," she said in a presentation to Mount Nittany Health's communications department recently.

Foster provides informational programs for Mount Nittany Health employees and departments interested in raising the bar on health literacy. She said most people are surprised by the small changes they can make in the way they communicate, both written and verbally, that can make a big difference in understanding and comprehension.

One important consideration is the use of medical terms. The plain language thesaurus for health communications developed through the Center for Disease Control offers plain language choices for technical terms. Example: "membrane" means "a thin layer of tissue." Though not as medically precise, this description would probably be understood by most people.

Some of the attributes of a health literate organization include:

  • Prepares the workforce to be health literate and moniters progress.
  • Uses health literacy strategies in interpersonal communications and confirms understanding at all points of contact.
  • Provides easy access to health information and services and navigation assistance.

For a complete list of the attributes of a health literate organization, go to