Improve health literacy and achieve better outcomes

Help patients better understand how to care for their wounds at home.

Nurse speaking with elderly male patient.

When you ask patients if they understand how to care for their wounds, do they smile and say, “Yes”? Chances are they’re not being truthful. In fact, only 12 percent of U.S. adults have proficient health literacy.1 Don’t take “yes” for an answer.

Health literacy by the numbers

The National Assessment of Adult Literacy surveyed 19,000 adults from 50 states and the District of Columbia.2 The survey divided health literacy into four levels: proficient, intermediate, basic and below basic. The results revealed a general lack of ability among adults to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions. Here are the numbers:

35% of adults have basic or below basic health literacy.
41% of Hispanic adults have below basic health literacy.
49% of adults without a high school degree have below basic health literacy.
39% of adults over 75 years of age have below basic health literacy.

Start turning those numbers around with this at-a-glance guide.

  1. Walk in their shoes
    Consider each patient’s economic, cultural and educational background, as well as age. Then ask yourself: “If I were this patient, would the medical terms make sense to me?”
  2. Make it personal
    Discover your patient’s unique home circumstances by asking questions like, “Who can help you at home?” and “How will you stick to your treatment plan?”
  3. Break it down
    As part of your discussion with your patient, make treatment less overwhelming by breaking down treatment instructions into three or four easily digestible steps.
  4. Check for understanding
    One effective way to confirm that your patients understand their wound care plan is to ask them to repeat it back to you.
  5. Use simple analogies
    Have a few key comparisons up your sleeve. You might say treatment is like caring for a plant—if it’s wilted, it’s too late for watering.
  6. Mirror patient population
    Patients typically feel more at ease if they can interact with frontline staff who look like them or speak their language. Encourage staffing diversity when and where you can.
  7. Engage community
    If staff diversity has gaps, try filling them with community members. Think of certain demographics such as military veterans who may feel more comfortable with other veterans present.
  8. Spread the word
    An organization-wide health literacy protocol will make your job easier. Assessment tools are available to help identify opportunities and barriers—visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for suggestions.

In conclusion: Wound treatment can be confusing

Continue to arm yourself with strategies and information to help improve your patients’ health literacy – and hopefully their outcomes. Find out how educational product packaging combined with good design can also help patients do the right thing.


  1. National Assessment of Adult Literacy; U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences.
  2. (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services)