Health Literacy Is A Matter Of Life Or Death

tree of life 11 21

The basic ability to read is essential in looking after one’s health, especially when managing a chronic illness that requires various treatments and medications. It is estimated that patients with low health literacy cost anywhere from US $106 billion to $238 billion each year in the US alone, which equates to roughly 10% of the healthcare budget. In the UK, it’s estimated that the financial cost of low health literacy is 3% to 5% of the yearly NHS budget.

Health literacy is defined as the degree to which a person has the capacity to obtain, process and comprehend health information in order to make decisions about their own health. Around 75% of health information is written at a high school to undergraduate reading level.

This presents serious problems – take the US for example, where the average reading ability of adults is between grade 8 and 9, with around a quarter of adults reading at a grade 5 level and below. In England, the current research shows that approximately 43% to 61% of English working age adults regularly experience problems understanding health information.

As a result, most healthcare information is written at a level more advanced than the reader’s ability. Imagine the anxiety caused by not understanding what your doctor has said, or by being puzzled by your prescription, all with the knowledge that your health is at stake. Or if you’re a parent and making the health decisions for your child, that you could end up making a mistake that puts them at risk.

Hospitals and other healthcare facilities can be stressful, daunting places. They’re often very busy with a distracting amount of information that all demand your attention. The health literacy standards of these environments are often mismatched with the health literacy levels of the patients using them, especially when it comes to signage. A problem faced by participants in one study was that the clinic they were looking for was given three distinct names: one in their appointment letter, one in the hospital directory and a different one again in the signposts.

When navigating a healthcare facility, a patient is expected to be able to read and understand a wide range of written information, from appointment letters to complex consent and medical history forms to information pamphlets and maps. Many patients are unable to make sense of these sources of information, leading to late or missed appointments, dissatisfaction with the facility and, in the worst case, a decision to end their treatment.

The problem of jargon

We all come across jargon in the workplace, probably on a daily basis. Yet the use of jargon by doctors and other medical staff can be troubling. It’s easy for doctors to forget that most of their patients don’t have the same education, training and years of experience that they do, and that the complex terms they’re familiar with might sound like a foreign language to others. A patient being told that they have “renal adenoma” or “a benign kidney tumor” can be misunderstood, causing them pointless worry. A less extreme example would be using “hypertension” in the place of “high blood pressure” when the latter is more commonly understood.

Patients with low levels of health literacy are more likely to make mistakes with their medication and often misread the instructions. Instructions such as “take two pills twice a day” can be misread, with research showing that fewer mistakes were made if phrased “take two pills with breakfast and two pills with dinner”. Most research in this area found that around half of patients were recorded as misunderstanding their medication’s purpose, the frequency taken, or the specific dosage instructions involved. Errors with medication can be very dangerous for patients, even life threatening in some cases.

The concept of health literacy was first introduced in the 1970s, so it’s still a fairly new field of research, but it has been gaining traction in recent years. It’s hoped that future research will highlight this as a significant area of concern, instigating the changes necessary to accommodate those with low health literacy.

The Conversation

About The Author

Keegan Shepard, PhD Student and Graduate Teaching Assistant, Edge Hill University


 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Related Books

at InnerSelf Market and Amazon

 

More Articles By This Author

You May Also Like

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

AVAILABLE LANGUAGES

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeeliwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptroruesswsvthtrukurvi

INNERSELF VOICES

group of multi-racial individuals standing for a group photo
Seven Ways You Can Show Respect to Your Diverse Team (Video)
by Kelly McDonald
Respect is profoundly meaningful, but costs nothing to give. Here are ways you can demonstrate (and…
elephant walking in front of a setting sun
Astrological Overview and Horoscope: May 16 - 22, 2022
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
photo of Leo Buscaglia from cover of his book: Living, Loving and Learning
How to Change Someone's Life in a Few Seconds
by Joyce Vissell
My life was changed dramatically when someone took that second to point out my beauty.
a composite photograph of a total lunar eclipse
Astrological Overview and Horoscope: May 9 - 15, 2022
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
05 08 developing compassionate thinking 2593344 completed
Developing Compassionate Thinking Towards Self and Others
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
When people speak of compassion, they mostly are referring to having compassion for others... for…
a young couple, wearing protective masks, standing on a bridge
A Bridge for Healing: Dear Corona Virus...
by Laura Aversano
The Coronavirus pandemic represented a current in our psychic and physical spheres of reality that…
Morning aurora over Læsø, Denmark.
Astrological Overview and Horoscope: May 2 - 8, 2022
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
spiral
Living in Harmony with Reverence for All
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
Walk with inner guidance in harmony with your environment and with others. Obstacles facing you…
Accepting The Kid and Rediscovering Our Original Self
Accepting The Kid and Rediscovering Our Original Self
by Marie T. Russell
So many of us go through life trying to be better than someone else, or better than who we think we…
The Law of the Vital Few Is Incredilbly Simple and Powerful
The Law of the Vital Few Is Incredibly Simple and Powerful
by Alan Cohen
Do you feel like you are wasting time and energy spinning your wheels with little or no results? Do…
Within the Web of Awakening
Within the Web of Awakening: December 2015
by Sarah Varcas
December begins, fittingly perhaps, with reflection and blasts from the past, reminding us that we…

MOST READ

05 08 developing compassionate thinking 2593344 completed
Developing Compassionate Thinking Towards Self and Others (Video)
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
When people speak of compassion, they mostly are referring to having compassion for others... for…
a man writing a letter
Writing the Truth and Allowing the Emotions to Flow
by Barbara Berger
Writing things down is a good way to practice truth telling.
branins gray and white matter 4 7
Understanding The Brain’s Gray and White Matter
by Christopher Filley, University of Colorado
The human brain is a three-pound organ that remains largely an enigma. But most people have heard…
two young boys who were picking apples sitting by a haystack
Does Being Tough on Young People Improve Performance?
by Jennifer Fraser
The bullying paradigm has parents, teachers and coaches believing they must be tough to the point…
picture of a person's bare foot standing on the grass
Practices for Grounding and Reclaiming Your Connection to Nature
by Jovanka Ciares
We all have this connection to nature and to the whole world: to earth, to water, to air, and to…
shopping when god loves you 4 8
How Feeling Loved by God Cuts Self-improvement Spending
by Duke University
Christians who are spiritual or religious are less likely to purchase self-improvement products…
hugs fell good 5 6
Why Do Hugs Feel Good?
by Jim Dryden, Washington University in St. Louis
New research indicates why hugs and other varieties of “pleasant touch” feel good.
photo of Leo Buscaglia from cover of his book: Living, Loving and Learning
How to Change Someone's Life in a Few Seconds
by Joyce Vissell
My life was changed dramatically when someone took that second to point out my beauty.

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.