Patients’ understanding of health information critical in saving lives of new moms

January 4, 2019

By Sally Crocker

Jamar Web

Every day, about 830 women around the world die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications.

The number of maternal deaths in the U.S. has more than doubled in the last 30 years, and Texas data is especially concerning, with about 14.6 deaths for every 100,000 births.

Through a new study funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities,UNT Health Science Center researcher Dr. Teresa Wagneraims to evaluate the impact of health literacy on this problem.

“Few studies to date have looked at the effect of health literacy on obstetric outcomes,” Dr. Wagner said. “There is a vast amount of medical instruction provided when leaving the hospital which begs the question, ‘Are women understanding how to evaluate if symptoms after childbirth are normal, abnormal or requiring urgent medical attention?’”

Dr. Wagner, Assistant Professor in the UNTHSC School of Public Health and Senior Fellow for Health Literacy with SaferCare Texas, formerly known as the UNTHSC Institute for Patient Safety, has spent much of her career working to bring about change in the ways people navigate and understand the complex health care environment.

Her recommendations for improved health literacy in Texas have received support across the state and are slated for review in the 2019 legislative session.

“There is so much to process when new mothers leave the hospital and head home that it may be challenging to get a good grasp on all the discharge paperwork and homecare instructions,” she said. “Along with the responsibilities of caring for a newborn, new moms may also be facing sleep deprivation and physical and emotional changes. It’s important that women have a clear understanding of warning signs or complications indicating they should call a health care provider or go to the nearest emergency department.”

African American and low-income mothers, as well as women at extremes of the standard maternal age and those from rural areas, are most at risk, Dr. Wagner said.

“Readability, understandability and cultural sensitivity are all important in the way that health information is provided and will be assessed in this new study,” she said.

The project will partner with the UNTHSC Healthy Start program; Family Circle of Carein Tyler, Texas; and the Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciencesat TCU, to evaluate current postpartum education and information through national standards assessment models and personal interviews with both urban and rural patients.

“The innovative aspect of this study is that we will be including women’s own personal perceptions with standard health literacy assessments, to gain firsthand advice and make recommendations on how communications and instructions can be improved as new mothers leave the hospital,” Dr. Wagner said. “The information and opinions they share will be important in helping to improve standards of care for hospitals and keeping mothers safe from preventable harm.”

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