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Consumers focus on the write stuff in healthcare information

Published:  07 September 2020

A consumer group with the write stuff is reviewing patient information in the Townsville Hospital and Health Service to make sure it can be easily understood.

Health literacy group member Suzie Davies is a retired marine librarian who is putting her experience to good use at the monthly meetings reviewing patient information that includes everything from preparing for surgery to where to park.

Suzie said she thoroughly enjoyed working with other consumers to review patient information and was pleased to be offer her expertise.

“I dealt with a lot of corporate publications over the years and sometimes you would see corporate publications work well and sometimes they didn’t work at all,” she said.

“I thought this group was a worthwhile opportunity because it made me think about the importance of information in hospitals.

“When people are in hospital, they’re usually sick or something terrible has happened and they are at a very vulnerable time of their life.

“When people arrive, they are given a lot of information and they might only absorb about 10 per cent of it so the written information given to people as they walk out the door is critical to their understanding.”

Suzie said the group reviewed between six and eight documents each meeting to ensure their readability and comprehension by people of all health literacy levels.

“We look at these documents to ensure they have a strong and clear message in simple language,” she said.

“We also look to see if the publication can be empathetic and supportive of the person reading it and that it provides a certain level of information but always gives the reader another avenue if they need more information.”

Suzie said having spent a lot of time in hospitals in her early 20s with ill parents, she was thrilled to see modern-day hospitals taking health literacy into consideration.

“Back then there was no information on anything, let alone information that had been carefully reviewed to ensure it was valuable to healthcare consumers,” she said.

“This group acknowledges that people receiving healthcare come from all walks of life, from different cultures and have different education levels, and seeks to ensure this does not disadvantage them in their healthcare journey.”

Director of stakeholder engagement Irene Jacovos said patient information should always answer more questions than it raises.

“This group works hard in the background and while you never see them its members are reviewing every piece of information our patients read,” she said.

“It’s very rewarding to see some publications undergo a series of quality re-writes, going back to the authors with the feedback, and then printing the publications and publishing them online for our consumers in a much simpler and more readable format.”

Irene said while the committee currently only reviewed print publications there was scope to expand beyond this.

“I’d like to move to reviewing letters, website content, and video content in the future,” she said.

“When you’re in the system, you can be guilty of assuming a certain level of health literacy from our patients and consumers.

“This group of consumers does a great job in keeping us accountable for every piece of patient information we produce.

“We’re very grateful to them.”

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