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 2010 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
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
Florida Health: Chronic Disease Epidemiology Surveillance and Evaluation
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