Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Health Literacy and You

What is health literacy and how does it affect you and your loved ones?
Health information is available everywhere, from consumer magazines to the internet you can read about health issues. Health literacy goes beyond that: its also about being able to understand and use that information when you need to make decisions about your health care.

Did you ever leave the doctor's office wondering what was just said, had trouble understanding how to take your medication or figuring out how find appropriate health care services? All that is part of health literacy and it effects people's ability to effectively manage their health care on many levels, including those with advanced literacy skills. Everyone can feel overwhelmed by health care information.

What are some examples of how you or someone you know can be affected?
There may be difficulty with:
* finding health care providers or services
* filling out forms
* communicating personal and health information with providers
* understanding how to manage chronic diseases
* understanding the relationship between lifestyle choices and health outcomes
* not knowing or recognizing signs when to seek medical care
* not understanding or misunderstanding medical terminology
* not understanding instructions on prescription bottles

Who is affected?
Did you know that only 12% of adults in the U.S. have Proficient Health Literacy? That means 9 out of 10 adults may lack the needed health literacy skills to manage their health care!

Even more worrisome, 14% of adults have Below Basic Health Literacy. That's over 30 million people!*

*source: http://www.health.gov/communication/literacy/default.htm

What is the economic impact of this?
The estimated additional health care expenditures due to low health literacy skills are about
$73 billion dollars!*

*source: Health Literacy Fact Sheet http://www.agingsociety.org/agingsociety/publications/fact/fact_low.html

What can you do to improve your health literacy?
There are many things you can do. For example:
* ask questions. If you don't understand what the doctor or nurse has said to you, make sure to
tell them to repeat the information or to explain in "plain language"
* read all material your health care provider has given you. If you don't understand it, bring it
with you to your next office visit and go over it together
* ask the pharmacist to explain directions on your medication bottle if you don't understand
* request material and information in your primary language

These are just some examples how you can improve your health literacy. Don't be embarrassed to ask questions or ask health care providers to repeat. Your health care providers are your partners in health matters.

For more information:
* MedlinePlus: Health Literacy http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/healthliteracy.html