Doctors use 'teach-back' method to improve patients' health literacy

Published: Oct. 20, 2013 at 2:24 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 19, 2013 at 3:24 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Some Georgia healthcare professionals are taking a few extra minutes this month to make sure their patients understand health information.

The Georgia Alliance for Health Literacy is celebrating national Health Literacy Month by asking healthcare professionals to use a method called teach-back.

Teach-back is aimed at helping patients understand what their doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dentists or other healthcare providers are telling them. Healthcare professionals who use the method ask patients to explain information in their own words.

Officials with the Georgia Alliance for Health Literacy say it only adds a minute or two to each appointment.

The organization is asking each of its partner organizations that serve patients or educate healthcare professionals, including Georgia Regents University, to promote teach-back during October.

"As a doctor, I use teach-back to help me know how well I have explained something," said Dr. Laurel Murrow in a statement, assistant professor of medicine at GRU. "If a patient did not understand my instructions, it gives me a chance to try again while we are still together.  This helps patients walk away with a clear grasp of what they need to do when they get home."

Georgia ranks 39th among the states in overall health outcomes, officials with the Georgia Alliance for Health said. It is estimated that poor health literacy costs the U.S. between $106 billion to $238 billion. For Georgia, that translates into a figure between $3 billion to $6.6 billion.

Georgia Alliance for Health Literacy Chair, Donald Rubin, said that the burden of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, could be greatly reduced by better health literacy practices.

"Improving health literacy for patients and consumers, for healthcare professionals, and for hospitals and clinics is one of the most cost-effective ways we have for relieving suffering, improving the economy, and bringing greater equity to our state," Dr. Murrow said in a statement.

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