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Are Your Education Materials Inmate-Friendly?

If you use informational handouts as a primary education method for your chronic care clinics or nurse sick calls, you may be assuming that your patients understand when they do not. Misinformation or lack of information can sabotage your efforts to improve the health of the patients you serve.

Health literacy, the ability to understand medical information, is a challenge in the standard healthcare setting. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality “Low literacy is associated with several adverse health outcomes, including low health knowledge, increased incidence of chronic illness, poorer intermediate disease markers, and less than optimal use of preventive health services”.

The inmate-patient population has additional barriers to understand that should be considered by correctional nurses. Inmate interaction can be shadowed by mental illness, cynicism and even fear of reprisal. Although some inmates, for sure, have higher education levels, research indicates a majority have not reached basic literacy level. How will that impact your patient teaching?

Review your current informational handouts from a low literacy perspective. If you are using prepared information from other sources, you are likely to find medical terminology and complex sentence structure.  When education materials from low income clinics were reviewed by nurse researchers in this study, they found a majority too high for the recommended 5th grade reading level.

Check Readability

If you have digital versions of your information handouts, you can test readability from this handy website.  Preprinted materials can be visually scanned for words with many syllables and medical terminology above grade school level.

Non English Speaking Inmates

Determine the most common languages spoken by your inmate population and begin to gather teaching resources in the main languages. Spanish is the most commonly available alternative language for printed materials. You may be challenges if you have a large subpopulation of Ukrainian  or Laotian speakers.

Verbally Check for Understanding

When using patient teaching information sheets, always review the information with the patient and then check for understanding. Don’t just ask “Do you understand?” Even a confused person is likely to answer yes. A hurried “Do you have any questions?” is likely to get an automatic ‘no’. Your patient might think he (or she) understands when, in fact, they do not. Instead, provide a scenario and ask how they would respond. For example, you could ask “So, how would your wound look if you needed to come back to sick call for me to check it?”

Provide Later Opportunity for Answers

Patients can be overwhelmed by information and need time to adjust and process. This can be true if you are sharing life-impacting information such as a positive HIV result or a change in treatment plan. Be sure the patient knows how to get back in touch with you to get later questions answered.

Our inmate patient population can come from marginalized communities with limited education, low English skills, low incomes and ethnic or racial minority backgrounds. These characteristics have been shown to result in low literacy levels. Correctional nurses can improve the health outcomes through the use of appropriately scaled education materials.

Have you created patient education materials for your inmate population? Share your experiences in the comments section of this post.

Nursing Articles of Interest

Overgaard, P. M. (2009) Patient Education in Five Easy Steps, Nursing Made Incredibly Easy! 7(3) 56.

Wilson, M. (2009) Readability of Patient Education Materials Clinical Nurse Specialist: The Journal for  Advanced Nursing Practice, 23(1), 33-40.

ED Patient Literature Handouts Too Hard for Many to Understand Ann Emerg Med. Posted online November 1, 2010

This post originally appeared in CorrectionalNurse.Net

Guest post by Dr. Lorry Schoenly nurse author and educator specializing in the field of correctional health care. She has written 6 continuing education courses especially for the Correctional Healthcare Campus.

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Posted: 4/8/2015 10:10:41 AM
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