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Poor health literacy poses risks for pacemaker and defibrillator patients
Date:8/18/2014

(NEW YORK, NY, August 18, 2014) Patients who rely on pacemakers and defibrillators to maintain a normal heart rhythm run the risk of serious health complications if they don't fully understand how the devices work and what to do when they experience an irregular heartbeat. But a study from Columbia University School of Nursing published this month in the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing found that 40 percent of patients with these devices had little to no ability to understand information about their cardiac health.

"As a nurse practitioner, I use every patient encounter as an opportunity for education," says lead author Kathleen Hickey, EdD, ANP-BC, FNP-BC, assistant professor at Columbia Nursing. "Health literacy is a particular concern for patients with pacemakers and defibrillators because these patients need to know how to respond if they get a shock from their device. Even when the device is quiet they often need to know how to manage co-existing health conditions like diabetes, heart failure, and high blood pressure."

Risks can stem from some common misunderstandings between patients and clinicians, Hickey says. A patient might ignore advice to avoid rigorous exercise and then be surprised when experiencing an irregular heartbeat, for example. Or, patients instructed to check their pulse regularly and report any abnormal activity might not understand how to do this or what heart rate is cause for alarm. "It's not enough just to explain the same thing again in the same way," she says. "You have to stop to ask more specific questions like what activities they do in a typical day and offer simple instructions so they understand, for example, the appropriate heart rate zone for exercise."

To understand the scope of potential communication problems at the clinic where she practices in New York City, Hickey and a team of researchers evaluated the health literacy of 116 patients using a standard measure of readin
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Contact: Lisa Rapaport
lr2692@cumc.columbia.edu
212-342-3795
Columbia University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert  

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