Our expert answers 3 Questions
Individuals with disabilities, inadequate health literacy, and/or limited English proficiency frequently struggle with our current health care system. The role of health literacy and health communication on health care access and outcomes among vulnerable populations is a core focus of my research. I frequently wonder about what can be done to ensure that these vulnerable patients achieve equitable health care. How can we facilitate their care? Are there better approaches or interventions that we could use? Will these steps improve health care for the general population as well?
I come at this from multiple perspectives — as a clinician, researcher, and an individual with a hearing loss. These views help me to relate to the importance of bridging the health care gaps that certain vulnerable populations deal with. Technology applications such as the use of telemedicine and electronic health record prompts, along with communication best practices, may provide useful interventions to address existing health disparities. Ultimately, empowering these individuals to become advocates in their health care use may allow for the improved care that they deserve. I believe strongly that we need to engage these individuals and their communities to become clinical and research partners (using community based participatory research principles) to develop effective programs that are linguistically and culturally appropriate.
The concept of applying a “universal design” to how we interact and care for our vulnerable patient population may demonstrate benefits for the general patient population through a greater focus on ensuring effective health communication, comprehension of their health care, and expanding health care access points via technology.