Health literacy is the ability to seek, understand and utilise health information. By extension, pain literacy is the degree to which a person is able to obtain and process pain-related health information. It’s not easy to determine an individual’s pain literacy – but there are a few questions to add that will help you form a sense of where a patient might be coming from. No surprises – the key is to listen, really listen, to the responses:
Tell me what you understand about the problem.
What’s your theory about what is making you hurt?
What do you know about your diagnosis?
How do you think I can help?
Most patients have answers to these questions, although it can take some careful and respectful questioning to elicit them as some people will be worried about being made to look silly (perhaps based on past experience within the health system).
But caveat questioner – here’s a common response that we’ve found – I don’t know what’s causing it – you’re supposed to be the expert… You’ve probably heard this from time to time. We might respond, respectfully, with something like:
Thanks! I am also very interested in what you think is going on because this is a really helpful indicator of how your brain will be processing all kinds of information from, and about, your body
That last response is also a gentle way to start introducing some Explain Pain content.
What’s your experience of patients’ health literacy? Comments are welcome below.
Knowledge Driving Health