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Health Literacy—An Ever Growing Issue

Fri, Jan 26th 2018 11:00 am

in diverse and underserved populations. She stressed that the scope of the problem extends to all populations, and it is estimated that nearly one-half, or 90 million, adult Americans have difficulty understanding and acting on health information

Health literacy strongly influences health outcomes, including increased mortality, lower patient satisfaction with care, lower quality of care, worse patient safety, higher healthcare costs, and overuse of the emergency department. Low health literacy is associated with increased rates of hospitalization for asthma; use of inappropriately dosed over-the-counter medications; less family-centered care; and increased incidence of child aggression and antisocial behavior.

There is a growing movement that encourages doctors to screen for health literacy. This means identifying patients who have difficulty understanding the medical information and instructions imparted to them in their appointment.

Dr. Green describes a number of “red flags” that may indicate a patient has poor health literacy: frequently missed appointments; incomplete registration forms; noncompliance with medications; inability to name medications or explain their purpose or dosing; identifying pills by looking at them versus reading the label; inability to give coherent history; asking fewer questions; and not following through on tests or referrals.

Strategies to address health literacy need to be employed at the healthcare system level and at the community level to fully address the challenges of health illiteracy, according to Dr. Green.

Improvements will be made when doctors communicate medical information in a clear and straightforward way ensuring the information is understood by the patient/caregiver.

Health literacy will continue to be an important issue this year. Stay tuned for more!

Excerpts taken from Health literacy: A challenge in diverse populations--Contemporary Pediatrics, January 01, 2018, By Mary Beth Nierengarten, MA

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