I have been passionate about health literacy – most of this decade. Participating in this class – Learning 2.0 @ MCR-PSR – has given me the motivation to start blogging.
We have a tremendous opportunity to impact the issues of literacy as they relate to the health and well being of our citizens. October was the 10th anniversary of Health Literacy Month, which was the perfect time to share facts, figures and personal observations about a topic critical to the health and well being of nearly HALF of the US population and an economic burden for EVERY citizen of the United States.
What is Health Literacy?
Health literacy is defined by Healthy People 2010 as “the degree to which people can obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services they need to make appropriate health decisions.” But this definition is only a starting point. Health literacy is about the entire process of exchanging health care information. It is not just about reading and writing, but also how people communicate about health through speaking, drawing pictures, and using technology.
Why is health literacy important?
The National Academy on an Aging Society reports that “over 90 million adults with low health literacy skills have limited ability to read and understand the instructions contained on prescriptions or medicine bottles, appointment slips, informed consent documents, insurance forms, and health educational materials. . . .The estimated additional health care expenditures due to low health literacy skills are about $73 billion in 1998 health care dollars.” from FAQs on www.healthliteracymonth.org
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services limited health literacy can affect a person’s ability to:
- Fill out complex forms
- Locate providers and services
- Share personal information such as health history
- Take care of oneself
- Manage a chronic disease
- Understand how to take medication
According to the National Adult Literacy Survey, 75% of Americans who reported having a long-term illness (six months or more) had limited literacy. This may mean they know less about their conditions or how to handle symptoms.
One out of five American adults reads at the 5th grade level or below, and the average American reads at the 8th to 9th grade level, yet most health care materials are written above the 10th grade level.
Only about 50% of all patients take medications as directed.