June 2017
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Health literacy: Addressing the health and education cleft

The mismatch between a clinician's level of communication and a patient's ability to understand can lead to medication errors and adverse medical outcomes

The mismatch between a clinician’s level of communication and a patient’s ability to understand can lead to medication errors and adverse medical outcomes

ICTpost Healthcare Bureau

Millions of people in India are at risk for not understanding health instructions. We know the crisis exists, but we haven’t developed strategies to move en masse toward health literacy. What is health literacy? The Partnership for Clear Health Communication defines it as, “the ability to read, understand and effectively use basic medical instructions and information.”

Health literacy is important in a community as it addresses health inequities, as those at the lower levels of health literacy are often the ones who live in lower socio-economic communities. Being aware of information relevant to improving their health, or how to access health resources creates higher levels of disadvantage. For some people, a lack of education and health literacy that would flow from education prevents them from becoming empowered at any time in their lives.

According to an Institute of Medicine (2004) report, low health literacy negatively affects the treatment outcome and safety of care delivery. These patients have a higher risk of hospitalization and longer hospital stays, are less likely to comply with treatment, are more likely to make errors with medication, and are more ill when they seek medical care.

The mismatch between a clinician’s level of communication and a patient’s ability to understand can lead to medication errors and adverse medical outcomes. The lack of health literacy affects all segments of the population, although it is disproportionate in certain demographic groups, such as the elderly, ethnic minorities, recent immigrants and persons with low general literacy
A new study has suggested that one in three older people who have difficulty reading and understanding basic health related information may be at increased risk of death.

Poor literacy skills are already associated with a wide range of adverse health outcomes. Low health literacy is associated with less knowledge of chronic diseases, poorer mental and physical health, limited use of preventive services, and higher rates of admissions to hospital.

Partner With Educators
•    The K–12 education system is a critical point of intervention to improve health literacy.
•    Incorporate health-related tasks, materials, and examples into lesson plans.
•    Design and disseminate health information to support existing state standards.
•    Speak to students or help organize health-related field trips for local schools

Did You Get a Prescription?
Ask…
•    What is the name of the medicine?
•    How do you spell the name?
•    Can I take a generic version?
•    What is the medicine for?
•    How am I supposed to take it?
•    When should I take it?
•    How long do I need to take it?
•    Can I stop taking it if I feel better?
•    What are the side effects?

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