Tom's Take Blog
August 9, 2017
Is low health literacy a problem, and what is being done to address it?
Tom’s Take: Before digging into this question, I think it would help to explain the concept. Health literacy is the ability to understand basic health information, make informed decisions based on it and navigate the health system.
Without a doubt, it is something people are struggling with. When looking in to some stats, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion reports that only 12% of adults have proficient health literacy. That leaves a lot of people who aren’t clear on important matters related to their well-being. The consequences that can result? People who don’t understand things as critical as instructions for follow-up care or the proper way to read a prescription label have a harder – and often more expensive – time managing medical conditions and achieving positive outcomes.
So, what is being done to improve health literacy efforts? Providers, health plan administrators and employers are focusing on education right now. From a provider’s perspective, share-back and show-back methods are being worked in at exams and other medical appointments. This involves having the patient describe the information that was just shared during a visit or being asked to demonstrate how to use a device or prescription to ensure understanding. Plus, many providers are advocating extra resources like add-on health materials, support groups and classes, and trying to simplify care explanations by using language that avoids complex or confusing terms.
As for health plan administrators and employers, these groups are realizing that more educational tools can help their members (the patients) receive better care and simplify the process for navigating employee benefit options. They are integrating solutions that help with everything from selecting a provider or facility to managing prescriptions.
Improving health literacy on a national scale is something that would benefit everyone. There are many ways we can work toward this, but an emphasis on education seems like the right place to start.