This story originally appeared in IHI's 2007 Annual Progress Report.
For patients with chronic conditions, regular visits with their health care providers are important. But those visits are only a small percent of their lives; the rest of the time, managing their care is up to them. Giving patients the tools and support to do that well is an important part of being patient-centered.
Scott Anders, MD, is Chief Medical Officer at CareSouth Carolina
in Bennettsville, South Carolina, a federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) health center serving a poor, underserved population. When HRSA data revealed that he was not doing as well as he thought helping his patients control their high blood pressure, he sought to understand why.
“When I discovered a patient I’d been treating for three years couldn’t read or write, it blew me away,” Anders recalls. Realizing they needed better tools to help patients with these and other communication issues, Anders and colleagues used principles of health literacy to design a patient handout
with images of a thermometer and happy and frowning faces to help patients understand their goals.
In the pilot group of patients who used the visual aid, the percent reporting they were “very confident” about managing their condition increased from 42 percent to 86 percent. “Now about 70 percent of my patients are under control,” says Anders.