Poor health literacy puts Americans at risk


For many Americans, health care can be confusing.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only 12-percent of U.S. adults have proficient health literacy- the ability to process basic information about one’s own health.

Poor health literacy affects people of all races and ethnicity, however there is a correlation between lower health literacy and less education.

There are some ways people can improve their health literacy according to Nurse Manager at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital, Amy Bohl.

“People have to be their own best advocate and have a provider you are comfortable having conversations with, even if you need to ask the same question more than once so you can understand what your own plan with healthcare is,” said Bohl.

Discussing concerns with a provider and asking questions about symptoms etc. is essential to health literacy, according to Bohl.

At HSHS Sacred Heart, nurses like Bohl work with patients to help them understand their health care by providing a written list and explanation of medications, follow up appointments and phone calls and encouraging patients to ask questions.

Bohl says when concerns arise, it is better to talk with a medical professional rather than look to the internet for answers.

“There is a lot of inaccurate information out there available on the web and sometimes people come in and think they have this horrible disease because they found the information on the internet,” Bohl said. “We have to keep in mind that only the providers can make those diagnoses so we should not be self diagnosing or self treating.”

Having poor health literacy can be dangerous.

“The biggest risks that come with being illiterate to your own health is that you may not recognize signs of bigger health issues coming up,” said Bohl.

Poor health literacy often causes a person to be readmitted to the hospital with the same problem because of confusion with follow-up care, Bohl says.

She says not paying attention to early symptoms of disease or waiting too long to seek medical care can be also be more expensive and extend treatment.

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