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Health Literacy

Updated on November 13, 2015

You may have experienced this yourself...

You go to the doctor. He tells you what your condition is and how to treat it, and although you do not understand a word he is saying, you do not ask any questions. You do not want the doctor to think you are under-educated, so you just take what he gives you and go home.

None the wiser than before you went to your appointment, you self medicate rather than let any one know of your dilemma.

Studies have shown that up to half of the patients today do not understand basic health care information. Being able to read does not necessarily mean you understand medical lingo.

Patients with low medical language literacy are in danger of experiencing an increase in medical errors. If you add in language and culture barriers in some instances, the negative statistics climb even higher.

This subject is worthy of several hubs, so this is my first in an attempt to inform the general public about health literacy, and make them more aware of how they can help themselves become medically informed.

There is an obvious gap between a doctors extensive knowledge of medicine and the patient's medical understanding. Medical personnel spend several years learning their trade including disease, medicine and practice. Typical patients do not have any medical training. So this leads to a huge chasm.

For example, you may have been referred to the nephrology department of a hospital - without a knowledge of medical language, you may not understand that you are going to a place that treats kidney problems.

Those that have low health literacy:

  • Medically underserved people
  • Those with low socioeconomic status
  • Minority populations
  • Older adults

What may be misunderstood:

  • Directions on medication
  • How to manage chronic health conditions
  • Connection between risky behavior and health
  • How to seek preventive health care
  • How to share medical history with doctor
  • Filing out health forms and questionnaires
  • Locating proper health providers and services

Why should you care?

Poor health status is very high among patients with low health literacy. These persons also incur higher health care costs. This affects all of us.

  • A study of Medicaid patients found that those who read below a third-grade level incurred health care costs four times higher than the average population.
  • Another study showing that low-income men had a much higher rate of advanced prostate cancer than the average.
  • Low functional health literacy individuals receive more health care services which are publicly financed.
  • Those with low functional health literacy are more likely to miss treatments because of confusion about the instructions.

According to the Center for Health Care Strategies, Inc. reported that poor health literacy can have a profound financial consequences. For example, in 2001, low functional literacy resulted in an estimated $32-58 billion in additional health care costs.

Test Your Health Literacy

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You can find all the correct answers and their explanations on my next hub about Health Literacy. Check back to find the link.


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