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Finding the right words

Book,-reading.jpgIt can be hard to recognize patients who struggle with literacy. Some may have experienced learning difficulties in childhood and developed ways to hide their problem rather than seeking help. Unfortunately, when literacy issues affect how well patients understand medication instructions, important educational materials, physician notes, or safe care warnings once they leave the hospital, it can mean patients end up back at the hospital with the same condition or worse.

To identify patients in need of literacy education and support, Eastern Maine Medical Center (EMMC) partnered with Literacy Volunteers of Bangor to develop easy to access resources for patients and the community. In January, referral materials were provided to eight EMMC outpatient practices—these tools included posters with small cards for patients to take home, as well as education about the partnership and scripting to help providers talk about this often sensitive subject with their patients. In inpatient settings, a handout is included in new inpatient packets and information is also available in the Discharge Unit and Outpatient Observation Unit. EMMC is working to expand the program at additional EMMC specialty practices as well as with care managers at Beacon Health to further expand access to literacy resources throughout the community.

“We recently had a patient in the hospital for several weeks who was only identified as having literacy issues during the discharge process,” says Victoria Merry, MBA, director of EMMC Patient Experience. “He struggled to understand written instructions and we knew we needed to find additional tools to help.” By identifying patients early in their care continuum and referring them to Literacy Volunteers of Bangor, EMMC has the opportunity to provide better treatment and empower patients to take charge of their health.

Literacy Volunteers of Bangor offers free one-on-one tutoring to adults who want help with reading, writing, and spelling; speaking English; or going back to school. If you know someone who would like help or wants to volunteer, call (207) 947-8451 or visit