Health Literacy Health illiteracy has become referred to as the silent epidemic. According to the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services website, the National Assessment of Adult Literacy showed only 12 percent of adults have proficient health literacy. That means nine out of ten adults may lack the needed skills to adequately manage their health and prevent disease. Healthy People 2010 define 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 care related decisions. These are the skills that people need to find the right place in the hospital, fill out insurance forms, and communicate appropriately with health care providers. The largest study of the scope of health literacy published to date found that one-third of the English-speaking patients in two public hospitals could not read and understand basic health-related materials. Sixty percent could not understand basic routine consent forms, 26 percent could not understand information on an appointment slip, and 42 percent failed to comprehend directions for taking medications.
These findings were most prevalent in the elderly and those with chronic health problems. Those that had the greatest need to understand had the least ability to read and comprehend information needed to function adequately as a health care consumer. These statistics are shocking. Who’s at risk for poor health literacy? As for mentioned, the elderly and those with chronic health problems are at the greatest risk, but also racial and ethnic minorities, people with less than a high school diploma or GED certificate, those with low income, and those who speak English as a second language.
Most individuals with limited health literacy go undetected by their healthcare providers. The majority of patients with limited health literacy skills have never told anyone, including their family members. What does this mean to you? Poor health literacy leads to poor health outcomes. Some of the complications of poor health literacy include delayed diagnosis of medical problems, poor disease management, increased hospital readmission rates, and increased healthcare costs. It was estimated in 1998 that between $35-73 billion was wasted in prolonged hospital stays and frequent doctors visits related to low health literacy” (Ickes, MEd & Cottrell, DEd, CHES, 2010, p. 492). With all of the previously mentioned problems of poor health literacy, individuals who fall into these categories are also more likely to die at an early age. Is there a solution to this costly societal problem?
The long-term solution rests in the hands of health education beginning in kindergarten and continuing throughout college. We need more community involvement with this issue. It not only affects the health illiterate but those that are very health literate. It raises the costs of health care enormously. Despite massive technological advances and that we spend twice as much per capita on healthcare in the United States, we remain one of the unhealthiest nations in the world. Low health literacy contributes to our grim future.
We have high rates of infant mortality; increased mortality related to chronic, preventable disease processes; and cancer mortality could be greatly reduced by early detection. Health literacy is both a consumer and public healthcare issue. As a health care provider, it is not only my responsibility to ensure that you understand your health and what is going on within your body, but also your responsibility to make sure you understand. You have to take a proactive stance to guarantee you are doing everything possible you can do to stay healthy.
A few statistics to keep in mind when taking loved ones to the doctor: 75 percent of patients with low health literacy have never told their spouses, 53 percent have never told their children, and one in five people have never told anyone that they have a problem with understanding appointment slips, prescriptions, or doctor’s instructions. We must educate society as a whole. It is not only my responsibility but also yours as well. As stated by Levy and Royne in The Impact of Consumers’ Health Literacy on Public Health, “Consumers must demand better from our educational institutions, our health care institutions, as well as ourselves. References Ickes, M. J. , MEd, & Cottrell, R. , DEd, CHES (2010, Mar/April). Health literacy in college students. Journal of American College Health, 58(5), 491-498. doi: 2111084311 Levy, M. , & Royne, M. B. (2009, June 1). The impact of consumers’ health literacy on public health. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 43(2), 367-372. Retrieved from www. ecampus. phoenix. edu U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n. d. ). www. health. gov