Health Literacy Affects US All Apr 19, 2012
Now I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent person, but a recent medication prescribed by my physician has me scratching my head. Let’s look at the instructions for taking the medication:
- In big print: TAKE WITH FOOD
- In medium print: MEDICATION SHOULD BE TAKEN WITH PLENTY OF WATER
- In the smallest print: Take all other medications four hours before this medication.
- Take twice a day
Let me see, I can’t take it before breakfast because that’s when I take my morning before-meals medications. I can’t take it at breakfast, even though that would be with food, because it won’t have been four hours — and so forth throughout the day. Well, I could take it in the middle of the night, but then I’d have to eat food and drink lots of water…
To one degree or another, everyone faces the challenges of health literacy. It doesn’t have to be about the patient who doesn’t know how to take a medication on an empty stomach, or a diabetic who doesn’t know what a carbohydrate is. It can be about an active senior who is facing a decision whether or not to change Medicare Advantage plans.
Health Literacy is defined by HHS 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”.  Health literacy includes skills such as the ability to take medication according to instructions, to calculate dosages, to evaluate risks and benefits, to interpret tests results and to navigate the health care system. Verbal skills are also important to be able to ask the right questions that elicit the needed answers.
Health care is becoming more patient-centric. Patient participation is growing and more patients or patient groups are seeking to have better control of their health. Previous estimates show that nearly 50% of the population lacks some health literacy skills such as evaluating, analyzing, calculating, interpreting, or even finding health information. Research is beginning to show that health literacy is a stronger predictor of health status than age, income, education, or race.
Think of someone you know who has had a long illness. It doesn’t need to be cancer. It could be lupus, or hip surgery, or MS. How much information did this person need? What sources did your friend use to get the information? Did your friend find both good and bad information? What were the consequences? What skills did your friend have or need to wade through the information? How much do you think your friend’s skills accounted for the outcome of his or her illness? What occurred when your friend faced pre-authorization, co-pay costs, and Explanation of Benefits (EOB) statements?
While health care that is patient-centered, evidence-based, prevention-oriented, efficient, and equitable is the goal of our health care system, we need to make sure that both patients and providers are equipped with the skills to participate. Anthelio Healthcare Solutions has created an Innovation Council to generate innovative ideas on how U.S. hospitals and other healthcare providers can meet their escalating quality demands and financial pressures. Go to www.antheliohealth.com and click on the Innovation Council
Written by Debi Warner, Clinical Librarian, Anthelio Healthcare Solutions
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