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Helping Patients Understand Their Medical Treatment
Tuesday, March 01, 2011 | Sandra G. Boodman | The Washington Post

An elderly woman sent home from the hospital develops a life-threatening infection because she doesn't understand the warning signs listed in the discharge instructions. A man flummoxed by an intake form in a doctor's office reflexively writes "no" to every question because he doesn't understand what is being asked. A young mother pours a drug that is supposed to be taken by mouth into her baby's ear, perforating the eardrum. And a man in his 70s preparing for his first colonoscopy uses a suppository as directed, but without first removing it from the foil packet.

Each of these examples provided by health-care workers or patient advocates illustrates one of the most pervasive and under-recognized problems in medicine: Americans' alarmingly low levels of health literacy — the ability to obtain, understand and use health information.

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