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Day surgery increasing – recovery depends on patients understanding information

Karuna Dahlberg, Ulrica Nilsson, Maria Jaensson, Maria Hälleberg Nyman.

Karuna Dahlberg, Ulrica Nilsson, Maria Jaensson, Maria Hälleberg Nyman.

Many patients do not understand the information given to them by the hospital and as a result recover more poorly after surgery, as shown in a new Örebro study published in the scientific journal JAMA Surgery.

“Some patients find it difficult to understand and apply information and advice given to them regarding their health, an ability also referred to as health literacy,” says Ulrica Nilsson, Professor at Örebro University. 

“If you have undergone surgery, it may be a question of not understanding how to take your medication, or what the surgical wound is supposed to look like. This may in turn lead to patients having to seek further medical attention for complications.”

An increasing number of procedures are now performed as day surgery, which means that patients get to leave hospital the same day. This requires that patients follow the instructions given to them at the hospital. The connection between patients understanding the health information received and their recovery after surgery has until now, despite it affecting the outcome of surgery, been overlooked in research. 

Found it difficult to understand

The Örebro researchers have followed 704 patients undergoing day surgery in Sweden between October 2015 and July 2016. The patients knew Swedish and were aged between 18 and 82. 

61 per cent of the participants answered that they understood the information about health, disease and medical care they were given. 32 per cent answered that they found it difficult to understand. 7.4 per cent found it very difficult to understand.

“Around 1.5 million day surgery procedures are performed on adults in Sweden every year. That means that there are many, between 100,000 and 500,000 per year, that we send home after surgery who find it difficult or even very difficult to understand the information from the hospital,” says Ulrica Nilsson.  

Healthcare is not equal

“We need to identify the patients who do not understand. That way we will be able to adapt the information and provide them with extra support.”

The researchers are planning to take this further and include patients whose mother tongue is not Swedish and examine whether the information also needs to take into account culture-specific needs. 

“Today, healthcare is not equal. People who are used to searching for information and have no problem grasping it are healthier and recover better after surgery. Helping all patients to get it right from the start is also the best thing to do from a socio-economic perspective. 

Text: Linda Harradine
Translation: Charlotta Hambre-Knight
Photo: Maria Elisson