Why is Health Literacy Important?

Source: Helen Osborne – www.healthliteracymonth.org

When you visit your doctor, do you always understand everything the doctor or staff tells you about your medications, your diet, or your health problems? If you don’t understand all the information given to you at a health center visit, you’re not alone. Many people struggle with health literacy.

“Health literacy is a person’s ability to understand and use health information (1).”

Anyone can have a hard time understanding information about disease and medicines or health instructions from health care professionals. Only one out of every ten adults in America has all the skills needed to fully use the health information that is commonly found on the internet, in stores, or at your health center. When you’re sick or worried, it can be even harder to understand information given at a health care visit (2). If you don’t understand information you receive at your doctor’s appointment, it might cause problems. For instance, if you don’t understand that you need to take your antibiotic until the pill bottle is empty, not just until you feel better, the germs that are making you sick might still be alive and might cause you to get sick again.

Staff and providers at health centers are learning health literacy skills like plain language, speaking slowly, and only giving out small chunks of information at a time to help patients better understand health information.  As a patient, there are some tools you can try, too:

  • When you get health information from a doctor, nurse, or medical assistant, ask questions if you don’t understand what that person is saying.
  • If you’re told you have a condition, such as obesity or diabetes, ask “What are the 3 most important things I need to know about this condition?”
  • If you’re given instructions, ask the staff member or doctor if you can tell her the instructions in your own words to make sure you’ve got it. For example, you could say “I’m supposed to take this new pill, metformin, every day with breakfast and dinner. Is that right?”

HealthNet uses the Health Literacy Universal Precautions approach. This means, that anyone, at any time, can misunderstand their health information. Therefore, we put precautions in place to make sure everyone understands! Health center staff and patients can work together to promote health literacy. Then, patients can have the power to make healthier choices.

Post by Kate Buckley, RN

1. http://communicatehealth.com/ideas/glossary/#sthash.RWkFWHZf.dpuf

2. http://communicatehealth.com/2015/07/frequently-asked-question-why-%e2%9d%a4-health-literacy/

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