Health Literacy Impacts Health Outcomes

November 9, 2010 at 2:39 pm

     Healthy People 2010 defines 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 decisions.”

According to the 2003 National Assessment of Health Literacy conducted by the United States Department of Education, those with low health literacy are more likely to

  • Have a chronic disease and less likely to access needed health care
  • Be over sixty years old and two thirds of that group have inadequate or marginal literacy skills
  • Demonstrate problems with understanding prescriptions, appointment times, informed consent documents, insurance forms and health education materials

So what can be done to enhance health literacy?

  • Know resources available for patients, family members and employees that are in easy to read format or have illustrations (Medline Plus.gov, Mayo Clinic.com, patient education database)
  • Offer to assist others to search for information that is appropriate to educational level, that include visual illustrations, and that are focused on key concepts
  • Never assume that a well educated person does not have literacy issues, when in doubt, ask what you can do to help
  • Volunteer to be part of work groups within your organization that are focusing on health literacy issues (Joint Commission readiness groups, patient education groups)

For examples of how patients with health literacy issues communicate with their health care provider, check out the American Medical Association’s webcast, demonstrating how real patients deal with their own health literacy issues.

AskMe3 campaign — a patient education program designed to promote communication between health care providers and patients in order to improve health care outcomes by asking the following three questions:

  1. What is my main problem?
  2. What do I need to do?
  3. What is it important for me to do this?

October is Medical Librarians Month each year and the 2010 focus was Vital Pathways: Better Outcomes Through Health Literacy.  Ask a medical librarian expert to assist you in finding strategies that are available to optimize learning and which help to support better communication with patients.

Carol Ann Attwood
Patients’ Library
Mayo Clinic Arizona

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