Multicultural services are a significant part of Mercy Health. “Mercy Hospital for Women was one of the first Victorian public hospitals to establish multicultural services. It’s an important part of who we are and how we see our broader community,” said Natalija Nesvadba, Multicultural Services Manager at Mercy Health.

Sixty per cent of Australian adults have poor health literacy skills. This means most people have difficulty understanding and utilising healthcare information. Mercy Health wanted to expand their existing multicultural services to ensure all consumers could confidently understand the information given to them and subsequently make informed health decisions.

Health literacy was first introduced to Natalija at a presentation by Dr Sharon Barrett in 2013. Sharon is a leader in health literacy policy. She consulted with the Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health (CEH) to develop a health literacy training initiative.

Natalija explained that prior to any health literacy training, health organisations often found themselves “Community profiling and putting people into boxes without allowing for a person-centred care approach”. This led to a disconnect between consumers, clinicians and the organisation as a whole.

Although documents distributed throughout the organisation were informative, they were often complex and confusing to people outside of groups with specific expertise. “We realised how difficult [the language] was and how it didn’t meet health literacy [standards] very well,” Natalija said.

To overcome this, Mercy Health implemented a process that was developed using tools learned through CEH’s Health Literacy Course. The new holistic process includes assessing the readability of texts, translating expert knowledge into plain English, and implementing consumer feedback. Mercy Health created a community-reviewed tick which is placed on documents to indicate that it is a health literate document developed in partnership with consumers.

Natalija spoke about what health literacy means to Mercy Health. “It’s the patients’ ability to find information, to process it and to use it to make informed decisions about their care,” she said. “At the same time, it’s the ability of our healthcare providers and staff to actually deliver this information and how they support the patient to understand. We look at what our organisation is doing overall to support the patients and the community to navigate our services.”

Natalija explained since Mercy Health implemented these changes there has been an increased understanding of the importance of health literacy. “Now, everyone wants even more work to be done in this area…it’s a real acknowledgement that this is something that’s important and is a priority for our organisation.”

“Health literacy needs to be embedded into as many things as we can. There’s more and more literature that tells us health literacy is critical in terms of delivering good patient care and positive health outcomes for people. We all strive for those things.”

Mercy Health hopes to further engage consumers in health literacy initiatives to give them a stronger voice.

Natalija explained that, like with health literacy, establishing trust with clients is the key to her team’s success. “The values of enabling broader access, equity, diversity and inclusion for our community, which is understood by Mercy Health and CEH, ensures a positive and beneficial partnership for this initiative.”

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