Low Health Literacy

Topics: Nursing, Health care, Health Pages: 13 (4484 words) Published: December 14, 2013


Health literacy and its impact on patient health
Michelle Polanco
Empire State College

Health literacy and its impact on patient health
What if you found yourself going for a regular check up with your Primary Medical Doctor (PMD) and you were unable to understand the conversation? Better yet, what if you misconstrued very important information related to your treatment regimen? “It costs the public health system $18.2 million a year in misdirected or misunderstood health-care services” (Bryant, 2011, p. 7). The fact is that for millions, poor health literacy is a barrier to accessing health services and information. Low health literacy is a risk factor that can lead to poor patient outcomes. According to the World Health Organization health literacy is defined as “the cognitive and social skills which determine the motivation and ability of individuals to gain access to, understand, and use information in ways that promote and maintain good health”(WHO, 2012). Problem

More than 24,500 Americans can not adequately understand basic health information (Healthy People2010, 2009). With the healthcare industry advancing into modern technology and our older patients living longer with long-term conditions, the population that struggles with low literacy will experience increasingly difficulties when it comes to accessing medical needs and health information they require to assist with their treatment regimen. “Struggles with trying to understand essential information such as emergency room department discharge instructions, consent forms, oral instructions, educational materials, and labels on medication containers often undermine motivation for carrying out medical instructions and, thus, seriously hamper health outcomes”(Bryant, 2011, p. 7). A patient who is able to read has the ability to prevent him or herself from experiencing illness, in that they are better able to obtain healthcare services and follow treatment regimens. In today’s society, we are continuously inundated with health information whether it is at our local school, public rest rooms or shopping centers. The knowledge and information that is being broadcasted is aimed at those that are able to read, write and comprehend. What happens to those who can’t? “Low literacy impairs the access of adults to health care by placing them outside the normal societal flow of information that brings people to health care”(Bryant, 2011, p. 8). Another major issue regarding health literacy is medications. Patients with low literacy may find it difficult to understand the warning labels and dosage instructions. Many times patients are over medicating themselves because they misunderstood the dosage amount and they are unable to read the label. Patient education and discharge instructions when given to a person with low health literacy and not verified that understanding took place can result in hospital readmission. Patients who have low health literacy need to be given instructions in terms they will understand as well as in their primary language. Medical terms that are used by physicians, nurses and other members of the healthcare team pose great difficulty on those with low health literacy. Many times patients are given referrals to see other doctors who specialize in certain areas and when given the name of such doctor, the patient with low health literacy does not know why she/he is being sent there (Bowskill & Garner, 2012). Low health literacy has been correlated with knowledge deficit about health conditions, decrease use of preventive services, medication noncompliance, high hospitalization rates, poorer self-reported health, low utilization of potentially life-saving screening, poor patient physician communication, inability to understand prescriptions, instructions and consent forms, low participation in health promotion and disease prevention activities, inability to understand and use information on food labels, poor...
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