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Health Literacy Initiative

South Carolina Hospital Association and researchers at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health have teamed up to develop an initiative focused on improving patient health literacy and patient-provider communication.

The program was developed in response to an all-too-familiar story about a patient who arrived frequently in need of hospital stays. After admission and treatment, her condition would improve, but she would be discharged only to return for readmittance every week or two. A deeper conversation followed by a home visit revealed that the patient could not read and did not understand how to appropriately take her medication. In a nutshell, she had limited health literacy.

Limited health literacy is associated with higher healthcare costs and elevated morbidity and mortality rates. It can result in high hospital readmission rates, low perceived trust in the healthcare system, and poor self-care management and treatment outcomes.

Nationally 12% of US adults have proficient health literacy skills and South Carolina has the 13th highest rate of functional illiteracy in the U.S. Improving this is key in reducing physician load, decreasing repeat medical visits, and improving patient experiences and quality ratings/scores.

This health literacy initiative is aimed at assessing patient communication needs followed by the implementation of a simple, evidenced-based strategy to improve health literacy, patient-provider communication and health outcomes.

The simple, evidenced-based strategy uses three basic questions (“What is my main problem?”, “What do I need to do about it?”, “Why is it important for me to do this?”) to help patients better understand their diagnosis and treatment plan.

For more information about the program, contact Diana Zona at For general information on health literacy, watch this brief AMA video.