Do patients understand the aftercare instructions generated by your electronic health record, or the educational material you post on your Web site? If they don't, you're not only running afoul of regulatory demands for good communication, but also imperiling quality of care, which can hurt both patients and the bottom line.

An estimated 14 percent of Americans are "health-illiterate," and another 20 percent have only basic health literacy, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. "The average American reads at a 5th grade level, and the average health care information is written at a 10th grade level," says Aileen Kantor of Health Literacy Innovations, Bethesda, Md., which sells software that analyzes documents for comprehensibility and suggests changes to render them to an appropriate reading level. "If people can't understand their health care information, they're going to make mistakes."

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