Tips to Improve Health Literacy
“Health Literacy,” according to HealthTap Medical Expert Dr. Jeff Livingston, “refers to a person’s ability to understand health information, which includes things like determining medication doses, judging the quality of health information, and understanding the risks and benefits of treatment.”
There’s a significant gap between how health issues are communicated, and the ability of most people to understand them and to take appropriate action. Low health literacy is associated with medication non-adherence, condition mismanagement, increased hospitalization rates, and higher healthcare costs.
Consider these stats:
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that 9 out of 10 adults currently lack the necessary skills to properly manage their health and prevent diseases.
- A Columbia University School of Nursing study found that 40 percent of patients with pacemakers and defibrillators did not property understand their cardiac health, including how the devices work or what to do in the event of irregular heartbeats.
- About 50% of the 2 billion prescriptions filled each year are not taken correctly due to forgetfulness, dosage or duration confusion, ambivalence, or lack of understanding of the drug’s importance in the patient’s treatment regimen.
Dr. Reid Blackwelder, a Board Certified Family Medicine Doctor from Kingsport, Tennessee adds, “the biggest issue is usually when the provider does not check to see what literacy level the patient has, and uses words or phrases that are not understood. People often are embarrassed to admit they did not understand, so important parts of diagnostic or treatment decisions aren’t clearly reviewed.”
What you can do about it:
- Be proactive about your health. Before speaking with your doctor, make a list of your symptoms and when they started, and write down all the medications you currently take — prescription and over the counter.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If something is not clear with the doctor, nurse or pharmacist’s instructions, ask them to use more familiar language, explain thing further, or write things down.
- Stay connected to your healthcare provider. Make sure you have the contact numbers of your healthcare providers in case you have questions in between visits.