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Health literacy tips for American Heart Month

February celebrates American Heart Month to bring awareness to heart disease. Did you know that there’s a link between health literacy and heart disease? We don’t love this connection, but it’s true – people who have trouble understanding health information and instructions are more likely to die after being hospitalized for heart failure. Part of the reason is that treatment for heart failure is complex and hard to understand.

So, HLM is going to share some of our most loved health literacy tips for patients and providers:

Healthcare Providers

Help your patients understand their heart problem and how to take care of it:

  • Avoid medical jargon: Use plain language instead of medical jargon. For example, instead of “sodium” say “salt”, and instead of “discontinue” say “stop.”

  • Encourage patients to ask questions: Use the open-ended “what questions do you have?” instead of “do you have any questions?” You can also ask “what would you like me to repeat?” This invites the patient to ask questions.

  • Use Teach-back: Ask your patients to repeat back instructions you gave them, such as when and how to take their medicine.

  • Create a system to follow up with patients: A simple phone call to check on a patient can clear up the confusion and give patients another chance to ask questions.


If you don’t understand something your doctor tells you, ask a question! You can also:

  • Bring a family member or friend to your appointment

  • Write down instructions or ask your doctor to write them down


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