Inadequate health literacy can be the reason behind many adverse effects on a person’s health and well-being. However, with quite a bit of effort in seeking health literacy solutions, the struggle of inadequate health literacy can be overcome.
The most common definition of health literacy discloses that it is the extent to which people can obtain, process, and comprehend necessary health information and services required to make apt health decisions.
Health literacy typically requires a complex group of listening, reading, analytical, and sound decision-making skills and the ability to implement these skills in health-related situations. For example, it includes the capability to understand instructions mentioned on prescription drug bottles, health-related educational brochures, doctor’s directions, appointment slips, consent forms, and the ability to successfully negotiate complex healthcare systems.
The recent definitions of health literacy focus more on the importance of crystal-clear communication between patients and their health care providers and specific skills required to navigate the healthcare system. When it comes to finding effective health literacy solutions, both the patients and healthcare providers play a crucial role.
Health literacy in cultural context
Recognizing that culture plays a crucial role in effective communication helps us better understand health literacy. For individuals from different cultural backgrounds, many things such as the communication style, the belief system, the understanding and responding to health information, etc., exert influence on health literacy.
Even though culture is just a part of health literacy, it is a vital piece of the complex topic of health literacy. As per the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), culture affects the way people communicate, comprehend, and respond to health information.
In an effort to reduce cost and upgrade the quality of healthcare, there is an initiative towards “patient-centered” health care. Individual health care providers, along with patients, need to work together to ensure a smooth flow of communication. While patients need to participate actively in health-related decisions besides gaining health information, healthcare providers need to utilize practical communication skills. For even better health literacy solutions, health educators should write web-based and printed information using plain language.
Skills needed to improve health literacy
Patients need to:
- Access to healthcare services
- Analyze benefits and relative risks
- Calculate dosages
- Communicate efficiently with healthcare providers
- Evaluate information for quality and credibility
- Interpret test results
- Locate health information
- Articulate health concerns and describe symptoms accurately
- Ask pertinent questions
Healthcare providers need to:
- Ask open-ended questions in order to examine the patient’s understanding of prescription labels and other written materials.
- Ask the patient to repeat the instructions given in order to determine whether the person understood the instructions.
- Use simple language for effective communication. The healthcare provider should avoid using complicated medical terminology to minimize the risk of misunderstanding.
- Use pictures and graphics instead of long written instructions if possible.
Prevalence of inadequate health literacy
Low health literacy is mostly associated with more hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and a higher risk of death as people with limited/low health literacy use more healthcare services. The vulnerable population includes immigrant populations, older adults, low-income populations, and minority populations.
The reasons for inadequate health literacy include:
- Lack of primary educational opportunity
- Learning disabilities
- Cognitive decline in adults/ older people
The relationship between health and literacy is complicated. Literacy has an effect on health knowledge, health status, and accessibility to health services. Many socioeconomic factors affect health status. Literacy impacts occupation, education, housing, income level, and access to medical care. Illiterate and impoverished people are likely to be exposed to environmental toxins by working under hazardous conditions.
Impact of low health literacy
People with low/limited health literacy have a comparatively low likelihood of understanding medical instructions and labels, getting flu shots, and a greater chance of consuming medicines incorrectly.
People with low health literacy are reported to have more inferior health status and are more likely to be hospitalized.
Lower health literacy is linked to a high mortality rate.
Inpatient spending increases for patients with limited health literacy.
In the end
The measures taken by doctors and patients to improve health literacy are not sufficient. Consumer health initiatives are of equal importance when it comes to finding effective solutions. Consumer health librarians should provide technological access to health information and rewrite existing health materials in a more straightforward language to boost health literacy.
Consumer health librarians can also provide health literacy solutions by providing culturally appropriate, multilingual, and easy-to-read materials and by developing various materials and methods to educate consumers on evaluating health information resources, especially the ones found on the internet.