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Let's Be Clear: Communicating to Improve the Cancer Patient Experience

The Centers for Disease Control defines health literacy as “the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions.”

Although many cancer programs have made significant headway in providing patient-friendly materials in recent years, health literacy related to cancer diagnosis, treatment, and post-treatment follow-up requires on-going attention. For patients with cancer, poor health literacy may result in facing increased risk of medical errors, chronic disease recurrence that leads to higher hospitalization rates, and sub-optimal health outcomes.

Why Being a Health Literate Organization Matters

Health literate healthcare organizations can better deliver patient-centered care and meet requirements for certification and reimbursement. The Institute of Medicine (now National Academy of Medicine) Roundtable on Health Literacy has acknowledged 10 attributes of health literate healthcare organizations. While various factors can lead to ineffective health communication, a common factor for many patients is difficulty understanding and interpreting information about their disease when communicating with health professionals. Creating and using resources so that patients better understand basic health information can lead to patients making appropriate health decisions and improved communication with their healthcare team. 

Project Goals

With this education project, ACCC seeks to help cancer programs across the country to assess and improve their health literacy through the application principles identified through the National Academy of Medicine [formerly, the Institute of Medicine (IOM)] Roundtable on Health Literacy's attributes of health literate healthcare organizations.  The goals include:

  • Helping cancer programs and practices evaluate their current health literacy efforts and prioritize steps for improvement.
  • Advancing the delivery of patient-centered care by integrating key attributes of a health literate healthcare program.
  • Giving actionable steps for identifying educational needs and pinpointing areas where targeted education could improve patient care.

Interactive eCourse

Health Literacy & Clear Communication is a dynamic eCourse that delivers simple methods to improve patient-provider communications. Engage with oncology-specific exercises, activities, and situations and receive real-time feedback and suggestions to put evidence-based strategies into practice.
Explore the eCourse

Ask Me 3® Tool


Ask Me 3® is a tool that encourages patients to ask three simple questions each time they talk to a care team member. As we all know, communication is a two-way street. This video shows how your responses to patients’ concerns as members of their cancer care team can clearly, empathetically, and appropriately engage them and promote effective communication throughout the care continuum.
Watch Video

On-Demand Webinar

Gain a deeper understanding of why evaluation of your cancer program's health literacy efforts is important. Identify areas where simple quality improvement measures can lead to more effective communication, and learn about an easy-to-implement gap assessment tool that will help improve health literate communications throughout the cancer care continuum.
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Abstracts & Presentations

Gap Assessment Tool

This tool is intended to help cancer programs advance their delivery of patient-centered care by integrating key attributes of a health literate healthcare program. By completing the assessment tool, cancer programs can identify educational needs and pinpoint areas where targeted education could improve patient care.
Assess Your Program

After completing the assessment, access the project's Post-Assessment Resources to assist in discussing and planning next steps.



Developing a Health Literacy and Clear Communications e-Course

Clear communication and understanding of where your patient falls in their cancer care journey can be essential to ensuring positive outcomes. To assist cancer programs in assessing and improving patient-provider communication, ACCC developed the Health Literacy and Clear Communications e-Course. In this publication, ACCC summarizes key areas contributing to the development of the course as well as feedback received from multidisciplinary teams who have completed it.
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Health Literacy: From Assessment to Action

Health Literacy Case Studies ArticleLearn more about the assessment tool, three different approaches to completing the assessment by ACCC member programs, what they learned from the process, and how they intend to apply the results in planning the steps to take their cancer program health literacy to the next level.

Thank you to the following ACCC Cancer Program Member sites for their participation:

  • Texas Oncology-Presbyterian Cancer Center Dallas
  • Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center Cancer Institute
  • Duke Cancer Institute 

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For more information on this project, please contact the ACCC Provider Education department.