Purpose: While surgery related stress may interfere with the patient's ability to concentrate on instructions, language difficulty or low health literacy may also impede appropriate doctor/patient communication. The purpose of this study is to understand from a sample of minority patients the types of problems encountered during healing and the level of information regarding elements of postoperative instructions they recalled receiving at an inner-city safety net hospital. We initiated a qualitative study to understand the care sequence process and provision of informed consent and postoperative instruction.
Methods: African American or Latino patients, 18 years of age or older, who had third molars removed under general anesthesia or received treatment for a mandibular fracture were recruited to participate in a focus group to discuss their treatment. Patients described their problem and any informed consent given about treatment risks and benefits and postoperative information they recalled.
Results: A total of 137 former patients were approached, 57 agreed to participate (42%) and 34 of those (60%) completed the interview. Subjects included 14 females and 20 males. Five categories of patient problems were reported: physical, eating, treatment-related, psychosocial, and other problems. People reported 5 categories of coping strategies: medication use, physical treatments, dietary solutions, rest, and clinical assistance. Twenty people recalled being given informed consent, and 5 participants recalled no elements of informed consent. Overall, 14 participants recalled elements of postoperative instruction.
Conclusion: Gaps in patient understanding of postoperative care suggest room for improvement in postoperative instructions. Additional research is necessary to design and test high-quality postoperative instructions for surgical treatment and recovery in populations with limited health related literacy.