Health (IL)Literacy – Addressing Low Literacy Levels in the NICU to Achieve Better Outcomes

By: Jaylee Hilliard, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, CPXP
Senior Director of Clinical Strategy, AngelEye Health
NICU Nurse. NICU Leader. NICU Mom


In a world inundated with complex medical terminology, technological advancements, and evolving healthcare systems, health literacy is pivotal in fostering positive health outcomes and reducing health disparities. Health literacy is critical in ensuring effective communication, patient/family engagement, and positive health outcomes in the healthcare setting. This is particularly relevant in the NICU, where families often have low health literacy, exacerbated by stress related to a NICU stay. This blog will explore the significance of health literacy in the NICU, its impact on family-provider interactions, and practical strategies to enhance health literacy for improved outcomes.

The Importance of Health Literacy

In the complex landscape of the NICU, the ability of parents to comprehend health information is crucial. Parents with adequate health literacy are better equipped to manage their child’s care, adhere to treatment plans, and know when something is wrong. On the other hand, parents with low health literacy may experience difficulties understanding medical instructions, interpreting health information, and making informed decisions about the care of their child, leading to poorer health outcomes and increased healthcare costs.

Impact of Health Literacy in the NICU

1. Enhancing Family-Provider Communication

Effective communication between parents and healthcare providers is fundamental to delivering high-quality care. Health literacy plays a vital role in facilitating communication. When healthcare professionals use clear, jargon-free language and actively listen to parents’ concerns, they foster trust and understanding. Parents with higher health literacy are more likely to ask questions, express their needs, and actively participate in the decision-making process regarding treatment options, resulting in a more personalized and productive healthcare experience.

2. Reducing Medical Errors

Misunderstanding medical information can lead to medical errors, which can have severe consequences for patient safety. Low health literacy has been linked to medication errors, missed appointments, and incorrect administration of treatments. By improving health literacy among parents and family members, healthcare providers can minimize the risk of medical errors and ensure patients receive the appropriate care they need.

3. Empowering Management of Complex Conditions Post Discharge

Parents and family members play a significant role in managing the care of their children on a day-to-day basis after they are discharged from the NICU. Competent levels of health literacy enable them to better understand their child’s conditions, adhere to treatment plans, and recognize warning signs of complications and when to get help. Empowering parents through health literacy can lead to a better long-term trajectory for their child, reduced readmissions, and improved overall well-being for both parents and child.

4. Improving Health Disparities

Health literacy disparities contribute significantly to health disparities among socioeconomic and ethnic groups. Vulnerable populations with limited access to healthcare and educational resources often suffer the most due to inadequate health literacy.

Strategies to Improve Health Literacy in the NICU

1. Simplify Health Information

Healthcare providers should strive to communicate medical information in plain and understandable language, avoiding complex medical jargon whenever possible. Visual aids, such as diagrams and illustrations, can also enhance comprehension and retention of important health information. Additionally, providing information in the family’s native language can make considerable strides in breaking barriers to communication and engagement of the parents in their child’s care plan.

2. Utilize the Teach-Back Method

The Teach-Back Method is a communication technique where healthcare providers ask parents to repeat the instructions or information they have been given. This approach helps ensure parents understand the information correctly and allows providers to clarify any misunderstandings.

3. Create Patient-Centered Materials

Healthcare organizations should develop patient education materials tailored to different literacy levels. These materials should be culturally sensitive and available in multiple languages to accommodate diverse patient populations.

4. Foster Health Literacy Training for Care Teams

Integrating health literacy training into the education of healthcare professionals is essential to enhancing family-provider interactions. Continuing education programs can help providers develop practical communication skills to better address the needs of patients with varying levels of health literacy.

5. Utilize Technology and Multimedia

Technology can be a powerful tool in improving health literacy. Mobile health applications, interactive websites, and multimedia resources can deliver health information in engaging and accessible formats. AngelEye’s OnlineEducation, EmpowerPathway, and PatientConnect are uniquely positioned to equip care teams to empower families to be more confident in the day-to-day care of their child while in the hospital and post-discharge when the intense inpatient resources are no longer available.

6. Promote Collaborative Decision-Making

Encouraging shared decision-making between parents and healthcare providers empowers parents to actively participate in their child’s care. Providers should engage parents in discussions about treatment options, risks, and benefits, ensuring they are well-informed participants in the healthcare decisions for their child.


By acknowledging the importance of health literacy and implementing strategies to enhance family understanding and engagement, healthcare providers can build stronger family-provider relationships, reduce medical errors, and improve the long-term outcomes of families and their children. Improving health literacy in the NICU is a responsibility and an opportunity to empower families in a way that has a lasting impact.

Learn more about AngelEye Health, Inc

AngelEye makes a difference at the most critical time in families lives, and we support the essential and dedicated clinical professionals responsible for delivering the best possible outcomes. Learn more about AngelEye’s products including, MilkTracker and end-to-end feeding management solution

The material presented in this blog represents the opinion of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of Synova Associates. Synova Associates does not endorse any specific products or organizations but strives to connect its industry partners with leaders interested in product/educational innovation.