Difficulty Understanding Basic Health Information May Lead to Higher Risk For Death

Health literacy is a person’s ability to understand instructions on prescription drug bottles, appointment slips, medical education brochures, doctor’s directions and consent forms, and the ability to negotiate complex health care systems. Health literacy is not simply the ability to read. It requires a complex group of skills including reading, writing, and reasoning to understand concepts inorder to make health behavior decisions.

Medication bottles collected in medicine cabinets across the country simply read: “Take as directed”. For those adults who have limited health literacy, or are limited in their ability to make sound health care decisions, this has little meaning. Take Charlie, for example,who has bronchitis and has been taking a swig from that cough medicine the doctor prescribed that has codeine in it. His caregiver discovered he was drinking from the bottle after she found him on the floor in his kitchen. He had been drinking the medicine staight from the bottle without measuring the amount every 2 or 3 hours. If a little is good for you, more is better, right?

More than 75 million English-speaking Americans have limitations in their ability to make health care decisions. Health literacy can be improved. Patient teaching handouts, medical forms, and health web sites make it easier to understand and improve patient-provider communication.However, the most important strategy for people with limited health literacy is to have a person with them to advocate for them at doctor appointments, during short procedures and especially while in the hospital.

What is your biggest concern for someone you love with limited health care literacy who requires health care?

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