Integrating health literacy into occupational therapy
Health literacy impacts a person’s ability to manage chronic disease, observe preventative healthcare practices, and navigate the healthcare system. Health literacy is affected by both individual and system factors. The purpose of this descriptive study was to implement a health literacy initiative that included: an assessment of health literacy; a readability analysis; focus group findings; and development of a patient education manual for occupational therapists. This dissertation is comprised of three studies. Study I was a two part descriptive study that examined the relationship between patients’ health literacy level and the analyzed readability of patient education forms. Fifty outpatient clients participated in the study and 16 educational forms were analyzed. In the first part of the study the participants were assessed with the Short Test of Functional Health Literacy in Adults (S-TOFHLA) and were asked to complete a demographic questionnaire. In the second part, education forms were analyzed using the Lexile Analyzer. The data were analyzed using descriptive and inferential statistics. Study II used a qualitative design based on a focus group of eight occupational therapists. This study provided insights into the knowledge and experience of therapists about health literacy. The aim of Study III was to develop a manual of health literacy education strategies for occupational therapists. The manual was designed to be used in varied practice settings with strategies to address communication barriers to health literacy. The results of Study I indicated that 38% of the sample had less than adequate health literacy, reading below the tenth grade level. Educational handout analysis revealed 89% were written at a level above the eighth grade. In Study II, the focus group identified deficits in therapists’ knowledge of health literacy and lack of strategies for treating patients identified as having low health literacy. Study III produced a manual entitled, “Health Literacy: Patient Education Strategies for the Occupational Therapist.” The manual features general information about health literacy, techniques to modify therapy for patients with low health literacy and experiential exercises specific to areas of practice. Future studies are needed to explore health literacy and occupational therapy interventions using written and verbal communication to educate patients managing chronic diseases and conditions. Further studies are also needed to explore environmental factors that affect the level of health literacy.