Health literacy is a global problem. Nine in ten adults have trouble applying the health information they see in the media or from health institutions to their own lives.

Defined as how well a person can find and understand the information they need, health literacy affects every decision we make about our health, from choosing a doctor to buying cough medicine.

Because of this, providers and organizations like the CDC and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) want to improve the way the health system provides information and advice. Poor health literacy affects surgical outcomes, drug dosages, and more.

The problem

Low health literacy affects all aspects of health care, said Dr. Terry Davis, a professor at the Health Sciences Center at Louisiana State University who has studied health literacy for 3½ decades.

The problem goes as far as “figuring out how much medicine to take, especially the dosage for children, because it comes down to solving math problems – anything to do with probability, graphs or statistics or even food labels,” said Dr . Davis in an interview with Medical Daily,

According to NIH-funded disease prevention research, people with relatively low health literacy skip screening. They visit the emergency room and are hospitalized more often than people with higher health literacy. They may not understand how to manage their chronic illnesses, use their medications properly, or understand hospital discharge instructions, said Dr. Davis.

A recent study at the University of Alabama in Birmingham found that health literacy can influence post-surgery infection rates. The researchers examined the medical records of 270 people who had undergone bowel surgery. Before the bowel surgery, the patient is asked to drink a special liquid called bowel prep to cleanse the bowel. In a press release, the researchers said that if the patient did not understand the bowel preparation instructions and they were not performed correctly, any stool remaining in the colon could infect the surgical wound and potentially cause infection. The study found that patients with low health literacy were 4½ times more likely to develop an infection after bowel surgery than patients with higher health literacy.

“It is important to understand that patients with impaired health literacy are at greater risk of infection after surgery so we can understand why and develop interventions and tools to better serve these patients,” said lead investigator Lauren Theiss, MD, in a press release from the American College of Surgeons.

“However, the burden shouldn’t lie with the patient. As a provider, we should interact with patients if they have limited health literacy. It is our responsibility to involve patients and make sure they understand what they are being told, ”she said.

Dr. Theiss said health care providers need to change the way they educate people about their health. She recommended that vendors, including doctors and surgeons, use pictures, speak slowly, use simple language, and ask the person to repeat all instructions in their own words. In that case, she said, a series of images could help a surgical patient do the preparation correctly to reduce the risk of infection.

Nurses could be the best people to educate people with low health literacy, said Dr. Davis. “Part of their training and mission is training. We give them training in communication and patient education. [On the other hand]Doctors are trained to diagnose and treat. ”

Take them home

The providers are working to improve the presentation of health information. If a healthcare provider gives you information that you don’t understand, request a simpler explanation, including pictures and written takeaway information. And then repeat their instructions in your own words. Teaching someone else is the best way to learn.


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