Health literacy is the ability to obtain, process and communicate the health information needed to make informed decisions and to preserve one's constitutional right to privacy and due process. Nonlegalese: Health literacy is knowing what you need to know to protect yourself in today's health care system.
* A national study of health literacy by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) concluded that over one third of American adults have basic or below basic health literacy skills (e.g., difficulty reading a chart or following simple instructions), far less than what’s needed to fully function in today’s complex health care system.
* Between 1966 and 2010, over 130 studies were conducted on the relationship between health literacy and health care. Not surprising, they concluded that lower health literacy is associated with more emergency room visits and hospitalizations; less preventive care; improper use of medication; and, among seniors, poorer overall health and higher mortality.
* The lack of health literacy in America is not exclusive to patients. A series of studies have revealed alarming misconceptions when health care professionals are asked to interpret and apply advance directives and Do Not Resuscitate orders in a medical emergency.
Surprised by any of that? The next time you have a serious conversation with a health care provider--whether concerning your own health or that of a loved one--practice shared decision making: The provider learns as much as possible about the patient’s lifestyle, personal goals, concerns and values; the provider offers alternatives that respect the patient’s treatment and personal goals; together the patient or proxy and provider consider available options; and, finally, truly informed consent for a treatment plan is granted.
Be an informed patient. Ask questions. If you don't understand the answer, ask again.