October is Health Literacy Month. “Health Literacy” is the ability to read, understand and act upon health information. A significant gap exists between the way health care issues are communicated and the ability of most people to understand them. All people, and not just those with limited reading skills or people for whom English is a second language, are affected by limited health literacy. According to the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy, nearly 9 out of 10 adults have difficulty using routine health information.
When people struggle with understanding how to prevent and manage health conditions, they are more likely to skip necessary medical tests, have a harder time with their diabetes or high blood pressure and visit the emergency room more often. They also tend to make mistakes with their medications, and fail to understand nutrition labels.
The good news is that health care facilities are trying to improve. One of the resources used is the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy¹ .This Plan as well as others have given health care providers several tools to better deliver their messages to patients. They include simplifying written materials, using video or other ways to teach patients, and tips to help doctors speak more clearly with patients.
There are also several things that you can do to improve your understanding of health related information:
- Improve Communication with Your Doctors and Other Health Professionals:
- Before you leave for your appointment make a list of your symptoms and when they Bring a list of your current medications, write down your questions, and bring paper to take notes.
- Ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist to use familiar language and write down their information.
- Ask questions if something is not clear. Let the health care person know if what they are telling you is confusing in any way. Ask for written materials written in plain language.
- Make sure you know who to call with any questions you may have after you get home.
- Take action within your community:
- Ask your librarian how to find clearly written and relevant health information. Take classes offered by librarians on Internet and social media tools.
- Attend health education programs at your public or hospital library, community centers, or faith-based organizations. Request these programs if they aren’t offered.
- Request that local schools teach kids about health education and deliver clear health messages to kids, like proper hand washing techniques.
- For more information on how to improve Health Literacy click here². You may also visit Health literacy resources for older adults³ and Health Literacy 4 for full ideas.