Health illiteracy – A major concern in today’s medicine

Health literacy – the ability to obtain, understand and use health information

Making sure that patients understand the information provided to them is critical for health outcomes but also to avoid side effects and disease complications.

The lack of understanding leads to several issues, not only medical like drugs confusion, over- or under-dosage, mismanagement and worsening of treatable conditions, but also financial (it is estimated, for the USA, that health illiteracy costs between USD 100 and 250 billion each year).

Moreover, it is alarming to see that, in a developed country like the USA, only 12% of the population has “proficient health literacy”.

Beyond the communication, language and cultural barriers could be very difficult to get over.

How to empower patients?

Several tools are available today to empower the patients: simplified literature & visual guides to attract attention, patient group meetings led by nurses or dedicated healthcare providers, patient associations, health-related websites, websites for patients… Apart from those interactions, mobile health together with specific apps can provide access to resources regarding one’s health.

Open communication (in both ways), patience as well as avoiding the stigmatization of weak people can really help improve health literacy and simply serve as a form of emotional support during challenging times.

It is fundamental to teach not only young doctors but also senior staff in the healthcare industry in order to tackle that issue. Without proper education and information, even the best medicine is useless.

 

Additional Resources:

Health Literacy Definition – National Network of Libraries of Medicine

Health Literacy Training and Activities – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Health illiteracy could be the death of us – The Guardian – 2015

Understanding the true impact of health illiteracy – ArtcraftHealth – 2015

Want to Fix Healthcare? Fix Health Literacy First – Citylimits – 2015

Racial/ethnic disparities in knowledge about one’s breast cancer characteristics – Cancer – 2015

Making health literacy a priority in EU policy – EU – 2013

Consequences of Health Illiteracy – University of Texas – 2012

Many Americans have poor health literacy – The Washington Post – 2011

The Silent Epidemic — The Health Effects of Illiteracy – NEJM – 2006 – Not only health illiteracy but illiteracy stricto sensu (unability to read)

Visual Learning Tools Overcome Health Illiteracy – Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare – 2006

Health Literacy – A prescription to end confusion – NAP – 2004 (free, just register)

Health literacy as a public health goal: a challenge for contemporary health education and communication strategies into the 21st century – Health Promotion International – 2000

 

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