Becoming health care literate requires more than reading ability. People with limited health literacy often lack knowledge or have misinformation about their bodies and the causes of disease. Without this knowledge, they may fail to understand the relationship between lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise and health outcomes. People with limited health literacy skills may not know when or how to seek care.
Health information can overwhelm even persons with advanced literacy skills. Medical science progresses rapidly. What people may have learned about health or biology during their school years often becomes outdated, forgotten, or is incomplete. Moreover, health information provided in a stressful or unfamiliar situation is likely to be forgotten or confused.
Strategies to improve health decisionmaking include:
- Improve access to accurate and appropriate health information
- Facilitate healthy decisionmaking
- Partner with educators to improve health curricula
What is health literacy?
Health literacy is the capacity individuals have to obtain, process and understand basic health information and the services needed to make appropriate health decisions.
Health literacy is dependent on many factors:
- Communication skills of patients/caregivers and professionals
- Caregiver and professional knowledge of health topics
- Demands of the healthcare and public health systems
- Demands of the situation/context
Health literacy affects people’s ability to:
- Navigate the healthcare system, including filling out complex forms and locating providers and services
- Share personal information, such as health history, with providers
- Engage in self-care and chronic-disease management
- Understand mathematical concepts such as probability and risk
Health literacy includes some mathematical skills. For example, calculating cholesterol and blood sugar levels, measuring medications, and understanding nutrition labels all require math skills. Choosing between health plans or comparing prescription drug coverage requires calculating premiums, copays, and deductibles.
Navigating our health care takes a lot of energy. The more knowledgable we become about the disease, treatments, and alternatives the better we are at avoiding emergencies. Therefore this episode will help you understand some of what is involved and where to start. Becoming our own health care advocate is ideal, but there are multiple options for which you can take advantage.