The Truths About Health Illiteracy: Part II
Advantages of Health literacy
There are many advantages in having the ability to read and write. Health care illiteracy is one area that can be easily corrected; it can prevent medical errors and improve patient safety. Those who are capable of reading can learn more on food preparation, physical activity programs, comprehend health and safety warnings on medicine and consumer products, access air and water quality reports, read posters advertising immunization and screening campaigns follow prescriptions and can apply for government grants and benefits (Jacobsen, 2008). The female health literacy is especially important since they are the main caretakers and family decision makers. Health literacy also leads to a better health communication with the health care provider. The patient will asks questions and not let the health care provider rush through medical assessments or procedures before he/she fully understand all that he/she needs to know. Research found out that doctors spend less time with people with limited literacy. Reasons being either patients have no or very few questions or the health care providers have a rough time communicating with these patients and may need to use a sign/picture chart to communicate which might take less time.
Initiatives to combat Health Illiteracy
The Health People 2010 had one of its main goals to eliminate health disparities among the most defenseless communities. Limited knowledge in health information will continue to cause disparities if not aggressively addressed and are therefore call on all the parties to collaborate to minimize health illiteracy. Some of the interventions that have been implemented include using universal precaution, writing materials at 5th or below grade levels, encouraging patients to ask questions or request for assistance on what they do not understand. Volandes and Paashe-Orlow (2007), recommended the use of universal precaution for limited health literacy for all individuals in health care, an expanded use of technology supported communication and clinical incentives that account for limited health literacy. This is seen when technology is used to translate information for the patients to the language they understand e.g. English to Spanish, especially when the hospital does not have someone on staff with bilingual capabilities. The assumptions of higher formal education, higher social status and negative stereotypes should also be avoided at all times. Such assumptions can be misleading, can lead to misjudgment and can be a major hindrance to the effective communication and understanding between the clinicians and the patients. Clinicians (health care providers) have attempted to improve communication through in-services, email reminders, continuing education and attending health literacy conferences.
The effective collaboration of the health providers and patients can also improve health literacy. The patients can also participate in improving their own health literacy. Patients need to understand that their decisions on health choices are paramount to their current health as well as their future, and making wise health decisions are critical. They should be willing to share with their doctors what they don’t understand and are in need of further assistance. Their openness about their limited knowledge can help the medical professionals spend more time with them and even refer them to community centers to continue to obtain more help. Adequate health care literacy is very imperative since it enables the patients to comprehend and understand how to access health information, recognize cues to seek help for health related issues and how and where to find resources for care. Through the strong collaboration efforts of the patients, family members and health care professionals, the health literacy can be greatly improve and the results can be greatly realized.
Jacobsen, K.H. (2008). Introduction to global health. Sudbury, Massachusetts: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
Volandes, A. E. & Paashe-Orlow, M. K. (2007). Health literacy, health inequality and a just healthcare system. [Electronic Version] The American Journal of Bioethics, 7 (11): 5 - 10. DOI: 10.1080/15265160701638520 http://www.entarga.com/orgchange/lewinschein.pdf