Health and Language Literacy Intertwine for Traveling RNs
By Christine Whitmarsh, RN, BSN
Literacy is no longer exclusively a problem for teachers to address. Nurses and especially travel nurses who travel to certain regions and communities are also facing language and health literacy issues while treating patients.
The importance of reading the fine print has been ingrained in the mind of anyone who has ever read a contract. But for ailing or injured patients and their loved ones, taking the time to fully understand what they are signing, especially in the ER or pre-operatively, pales in priority to getting well. Unfortunately the legalities and contractual intricacies of healthcare leave little room for flexibility and patient sympathy in these situations. Even if they do not fully understand what they are signing, once they sign on the dotted line patients are usually held liable for the legal and insurance policy consequences of what they are signing. Several incidences of patient outcry when it came time to face those consequences, have led providers and administrator to start aggressively addressing the issue of “health literacy” in patients. Health literacy educational forums are starting to pop up around the country for both patients and also for nurses, to teach them how much or little their patients really understand about what’s going on around them during a medical emergency.
In certain geographic areas, where English is often the patient’s second language, the issue of healthcare literacy is compounded by language literacy. Travel nurses who have worked in such communities, such as Texas, California, and Arizona may have a unique understanding of what it’s like to care for a patient while also handling a language barrier. Healthcare literacy along with regional ESL-related issues requires the travel nurse to have a heightened awareness of their patients’ level of comprehension. The bottom line is that when a patient is sick all that’s on their mind is getting well again. Nurses and travel nurses are in an excellent position to make sure that once the patient is well again, they won’t be faced with the fallout from consenting to treatment in the first place.
Christine Whitmarsh is a Registered Nurse with a BSN from the University of Rhode Island. She is a freelance health journalist and medical writer and a contributor to Travel Nurse Source and Allied Travel Careers.