HealthDay News — According to an article published in AMA Journal of Ethics, the use of health literacy tools is encouraged for facilitating shared decision making (SDM).

Noting that SDM is a cornerstone of ethical patient care, Laura Killian, from the Nova Scotia Health Authority in Halifax, Canada, and Margo Coletti, from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, examined the role of health literacy in SDM.

The authors note that the patient-clinician communication necessary to achieve SDM depends on many factors, including having a shared language; the use of medical terminology can be an unnecessary barrier to SDM. Use of the Health Literacy Universal Precautions toolkit, created by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, can ensure that patients understand their health issues and can make well-considered decisions. 

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Rationales for use of these precautions include respect for patient dignity and their autonomy, which is contingent on a patient’s understanding of relevant information.

Communication is also necessary to ensure patient safety. In addition, communication facilitates risk management and can prevent legal liability; addressing health literacy concerns is important for compliance with regulatory requirements.

“Health care professionals can and should use Health Literacy Universal Precautions as an ethical, legal, and practical means to enhance SDM and improve health care outcomes,” the authors write.


Killian L and Coletti M. “The Role of Universal Health Literacy Precautions in Minimizing “Medspeak” and Promoting Shared Decision Making.” AMA Journal of Ethics. 2017;19(3): 296-303. doi: 10.1001/journalofethics.2017.19.03.pfor1-1703

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