Communication and health literacy: a changing focus in physical therapist education
Hamel, Pauline Cloutier
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With increasing complexities in the health care system, including new technologies, density of health information, and a rise in medical errors, the literature has demonstrated links between communication and health literacy and patient/client safety, adherence to health protocols, and satisfaction with health providers. The purpose of this study was to understand the current level of knowledge of health communication and health literacy among doctoral (OPT) students and experienced physical therapists, and to explore related professional literature, documents, competencies, and industry standards to further inform this research. In addition to a qualitative research approach that included semi-structured participant interviews, open-ended questioning, coding, and analysis, the Design for Learning Model of instructional design was incorporated as a parallel methodology to develop a course template for communication and health literacy instruction. Participants were selected and interviewed at a national conference, and in academic, practice, and home settings. Based upon, and in response to, the data collected from fifteen physical therapist informant interviews, industry consultants, document sources, and pilot testing of units on health literacy and pharmaceutical advertising in the American health care system, respectively, a systematic, competency-based communication and health literacy course template was developed for use in physical therapist education. Findings suggest that, although patient-practitioner communication is embedded into physical therapy courses, there is a need to broaden the definition to incorporate more extensive communication topics, including health literacy and health informatics, cultural- and age-sensitivity, and alternative patient education methods to address related issues in health care settings, home, and workplace. Recommendations for the future include development of more specific communication and health literacy education for both student and experienced physical therapists in academia, clinical education, practice settings, and professional development arenas. Additionally, physical therapists are urged to collaborate with other health and non-health disciplines, including policymakers, educators, communications experts, and instructional designers to promote health literacy awareness, competencies, and commitment within the profession, and beyond. This study further underscores the health professional's responsibility for both delivery and comprehension of health information by patients/clients, especially those who may be challenged by low health literacy.
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