Vietnam's health illiteracy hurts quality of care: experts

In Vietnam’s crowded public hospitals, patients only get one or two minutes with a doctor instead of 15-20, leading to inadequate health literacy and less effective treatment.
Vietnam's health illiteracy hurts quality of care: experts ảnh 1Doctors take care of patients at Ha Giang province’s General Hospital. (Photo: VNA) 

HCM City (VNA) – In Vietnam’s crowded public hospitals, patients only get one or two minutes with a doctor instead of 15-20, leading to inadequate health literacy and less effective treatment, according to a leading health researcher.

Vo Van Thang, Head of the Institute of Community Health Research at the Hue University of Medicine and Pharmacy, told Vietnam News that doctors do not have time to learn about patients’ medical history or communicate other things related to patients’ health since they examine more than 100 patients every day.

“This thing could lead to imprecise diagnosis and treatment.” 

This poor clinician-patient communication also results in low health literacy among patients, he said.

He described health literacy as people’s capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.

Many patients leave hospitals with questions unasked because of the poor clinician-patient communication, he said.

He cited a study titled Health Literacy & the Prescription Drug Experience to point out that 80 percent of patients forget what their doctor tells them as soon as they leave the hospital. 

Senior patients are especially prone to forget while ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected by low health literacy, he said.

He also blamed illegible prescriptions written by doctors for the low health literacy.

Duong Van Tuyen, assistant secretary general of the Geneva, Switzerland-based Asian Health Literacy Association, cited many studies that show low health literacy is associated with a high hospitalisation rate.

He was speaking at an international scientific workshop on enhancing health literacy and social work to improve the quality of care and patient safety in hospitals organised on September 14 in HCM City by the Thu Duc District Hospital, the Institute for Community Health Research, and the Asian Health Literacy Association.

A study done by Dr Richard T.Griffey of Washington University, the US, and his colleagues found that patients with inadequate health literacy made a higher number of return visits within 14 days than those with adequate health literacy, he said.

People with limited health literacy pay higher healthcare costs, he added.

According to US Census Bureau estimates, the savings that could be achieved by improving health literacy - 106-238 billion USD - translate into enough funds to insure every one of the more than 47 million people who lacked coverage in 2006, he said.

Integrating health literacy into the healthcare agenda in Asian countries could be an effective way to reduce the burden of chronic diseases, the pivotal cause of mortality.


Thang said using IT can help patients obtain information about health problems and hospitals, know how to access medical services, and make right decisions in seeking healthcare. 

This means patients would no longer insist on coming to city- or central-level hospitals for treatment of less serious diseases, reducing overcrowding at these health facilities, he added.

Hospitals need to pay more attention to health literacy, especially focusing on improving staff training in communication skills. 

Nguyen Tan Binh, Head of the city Department of Health, said health literacy is an important daily activity which hospitals have to undertake to improve the quality of healthcare and patient safety.

Social work divisions at hospitals could help raise health literacy among patients, he added.-VNA


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