Numeracy: Exploring Strategies to Convey Quantity, Time and Risk

Helen Osborne, MEd, OTR/L

Helen Osborne, MEd, OTR/L

Helen Osborne outlined overall strategies to increase understanding for patients who struggle with numeracy. They included:

  • Knowing the science (or the study design)
  • Knowing and understanding the data
  • Knowing what your audience may or may not know
  • It’s important to know why you are using numbers as well as to know that there can be multiple reasons to use them, to persuade, inform or compel recognition of danger or to make sense out of conflicting data. It might be possible that you don’t need to use numbers at all.

    Osborne offered specific strategies for conveying quantity, time, risk, and comparison data. When it comes to quantity, it’s important to confirm the measurement system you’re using. She mentioned a number of visual comparisons, including the compartmentalized plate and the Wong Baker Pain Scale, and comparisons with common objects like ping pong balls. She cautioned that mathematical symbols can be a form of jargon, and suggested that if you are meeting in person, you can actually do the math with the client. For conveying time, she suggested creating schedules that revolve around a person’s daily habits, rather than the clock, and including visuals representing time, such as sunrise and sunset, as exemplified by the AHRQ pill card.

    Osborne concluded the session with an exercise that paired a set of instructions requiring some kind of numeracy with an imagined client. The exercise gave participants the opportunity to employ some of the strategies and provoked lively discussion.