Health illiteracy has become referred to as the silent epidemic. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, the National Assessment of Adult Literacy showed only 12 percent of adults have proficient health literacy. That means nine out of ten adults may lack the needed skills to adequately manage their health and prevent disease.
Healthy People 2010 define health literacy as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health care related decisions.” These are the skills that people need to find the right place in the hospital, fill out insurance forms, and communicate appropriately with health care providers. The largest study of the scope of health literacy published to date found that one-third of the English-speaking patients in two public hospitals could not read and understand basic health-related materials. Sixty percent could not understand basic routine consent forms, 26 percent could not understand information on an appointment slip, and 42 percent failed to comprehend directions for taking medications. These findings were most prevalent in the elderly and those with chronic health problems. Those that had the greatest need to understand had the least ability to read and comprehend information needed to function adequately as a health care consumer. These statistics are shocking.
Who’s at risk for poor health literacy? As for mentioned, the elderly and those with chronic health problems are at the greatest risk, but also racial and ethnic minorities, people with less than a high school diploma or GED certificate, those with low income, and those who speak English as a second language. Most individuals with limited health literacy go undetected by their healthcare providers. The majority of patients with limited health literacy skills have never told anyone, including their family members.
References: Ickes, M. J., MEd, & Cottrell, R., DEd, CHES (2010, Mar/April). Health literacy in college students. Journal of American College Health, 58(5), 491-498. doi: 2111084311 Levy, M., & Royne, M. B. (2009, June 1). The impact of consumers’ health literacy on public health. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 43(2), 367-372. Retrieved from www.ecampus.phoenix.edu U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). www.health.gov