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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What is health literacy?

Health literacy are the skills needed to access, understand, and use information for taking care of health.

Low health literacy affects from 50-60% of  the North American population and therefore raises health costs and reduces the  health outcomes in our society.  

People with low levels make more mistakes with their medication or treatments because they are less able to follow treatment instructions.  They also lack the skills needed to negotiate the health care system which can be complex and overwhelming, especially if one is seriously ill. They are also more likely to be hospitalized than people with good health literacy skills.

Some reasons for low health literacy skills are:

  • low literacy rates in general
  • English as a Second Language issues for New Immigrants and/or refugees.
  • lack of trust in the medical establishment due to past bad experiences or structural inequities in the medical system.
  • feeling intimidated because of the hierarchical nature of the medical system.
  • being anxious and thereby avoidant of anything to do with a complex medical diagnosis
  • complicated medical language used in medical written material.
Here are some suggestions to improve health literacy:
  • prepare self for any medical appointment by coming with a list of questions ready to ask.
  • write down and carry with you a list of any medication and/or vitamins you are taking.
  • write down a list of allergies you may have, as well as a list of diseases and/or surgeries you may have had.
  • do not be afraid to ask questions.
  • bring a friend,  health coach or relative into appointments with you.
  • repeat back what you heard so the health care provider can clarify if necessary.
  • keep a journal of your visits so you don't have to rely on memory, especially if you're dealing with a chronic disease.

More information can be found at the Health Literacy Council of Canada or Birgit Schinke Health Coach and Educator is available by email, if you need some help with such issues. 

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