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Area Health Education Center combats health illiteracy

Upcoming program trains medical professionals to better communicate with patients

October 13, 2009

By Colleen Kiphart

Earlier this year, a study showed that 85 percent of parents misread children’s over-the-counter medicines, believing they could be given to children younger than two, despite labels warning against it. The researchers suggest that medical professionals and drug companies often use unclear language and overestimate patients’ knowledge of medical issues.

To help health care pros better communicate with patients and anticipate their concerns, the local Area Health Education Center at the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-COM), will offer a training program.

The program, “Health Literacy: Helping Patients Understand,” will take place Thursday, October 22, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Ohio University Baker University Center Ballroom in Athens, Ohio.

“We are empowering individuals to take ownership of their health care,” says Kathy Trace, B.S.N., director of both AHEC and OU-COM’s Community Health Programs. “Patients need to know what to ask, and doctors need to remember that their patients haven’t been to medical school.”

Ellen Peterson, B.S.N., continuing education coordinator at AHEC, emphasized that the program will provide hands-on skills and techniques that professionals can use to better connect with their patients, which in the end means better health care.

The goal, Peterson said, is to remind health care professionals that patients usually don’t understand medical terminology. “We want them to be aware that they need to use language that can be easily understood,” she said. “Medical professionals use medical lingo that they easily understand, but most people don’t.”

Other components of the program include teaching medical professionals on how to work with patients with learning or other disabilities, and providing information on how to present information using various available resources such as pictures and health graphics, Peterson said. 

Although aimed at medical professionals, the October health literacy training program is open to anyone. Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credit is available for nurses, social workers and counselors, and certified health education specialists. Continuing Professional Development (CPD) credit is available for health care professionals who work with MRDD patients. Program sponsors include AHEC, OU-COM, the Ohio University Literacy Center and the American Cancer Society.

The state of Ohio funds seven Area Health Education Centers (AHECs), including the one affiliated with OU-COM. 

In addition to CPE and CPD opportunities, AHEC offers a variety of ongoing services, including physician shadowing opportunities for area high school students and a resource library of medically oriented teaching tools for local educators. Through its Service Learning program, AHEC trains medical student volunteers to speak about health issues at schools and community health fairs.  

For more information about this program, contact Ellen Peterson, at (740) 593-2258.

 
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