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What is Health Literacy?

An estimated 90 million Americans have problems understanding health information. As a result, many of these same people have struggled to maintain their health because routine prescriptions are taken in erratic patterns, follow up appointments are missed, routine screenings are forgotten, and discharge instructions are shunned.

According to the Florida Department of Health chronic disease conditions are on the rise. Approximately 15% of the adult population suffers from a chronic condition. Healthcare costs for this group alone accounts for 75% of today’s total healthcare costs.

Healthy People 2020 defines health literacy as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.”

The American Medical Association states that health literacy is a stronger predictor of a patient’s overall health than age, income, employment status, education level and race, and the consequences of poor health literacy can be literally devastating to patients today.

Change is Imminent

The healthcare industry is speeding towards the national usage of electronic health records. This will increase clinical care providers’ ability to have accurate and timely health information at their fingertips. Unfortunately, the ability of the American population to understand that same health information has not occurred.

It is essential for patients to demonstrate to providers or hospitals their ability to interpret the treatment plan provided to them while moving through the continuum of care. Health literacy is no longer the ability to understand which provider to visit on an annual basis, or deciding what routine screenings to have, nor does it simply relate to the patient’s ability to read.

Health literacy does not discriminate due to patient age or years of education. Health literacy includes the ability to understand prescription medications, discharge instructions, consent forms, appointment scheduling, requests for information, and the ability to negotiate complex healthcare organizations that offer a variety of services in multiple locations.

There is no doubt that the United States healthcare system is in a state of change. At the center of some of the change is the call for increased quality of care and patient safety initiatives that will drive down healthcare costs and medical errors.

Patients today must be able to calculate dosages, interpret test results and locate specialists. In order to educate themselves on these needs patients should be able to understand graphs, operate a computer, and be able to obtain copies of their health records.

As the healthcare industry moves toward a more consumer-based healthcare system patients should begin to take a more proactive role in all health decisions. Consumers are encouraged to develop a personal health record, which is the first step toward educating yourself on past medical histories, family histories and drug allergies that are key pieces of information to begin your medical journey.

Health Literacy links:
American Medical Association Health Literacy News
Medical News Today: Nearly 5 Percent of the US Population Suffers From Persistent Depression or Anxiety
Centers for Disease Control: Chronic Disease Burden of Chronic Disease and Their Risk Factors
Centers for Healthcare Strategies, Inc