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Health Literacy Essay

1440 words - 6 pages

Health literacy is a term not widely understood by the general population. It is defined as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information needed to make appropriate health decisions and services needed to prevent or treat illness,” (About health literacy, 2014). A person’s level of health literacy is based on their age, education level, socioeconomic standing, and cultural background. Patients with low health literacy have a more difficult time navigating the health care system. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this group of patients may find it harder to find medical services and health care providers, fill out health forms, provide their complete medical history with their providers, seek preventative care, understand the health risks associated with some behaviors, taking care of chronic health conditions, and understanding how to take prescribed medications (About health literacy, 2014). It is to a certain extent the patient’s responsibility to increase their own health literacy knowledge. But to what extent can they learn on their own? Those working in the health field have been trained to navigate the health system and understand the medical terms. They have the knowledge and capability to pass on that understanding to their patients. Health care professionals have a shared responsibility to help improve patients’ health literacy.
There are many actions the health professional can take to help increase their patients’ health literacy. Some steps are simple, easy to complete. Other tasks take the cooperation of multiple departments and people, but are just as important to help improve health literacy. The first step to the process is to identify those patients with limited health literacy and know the audience that the health professional is communicating with. The health care provider does not know who to help or how to help the individual unless first they are identified. Patients’ health literacy levels can be determined by tests that assesses each individual’s reading level, such as the REALM test. What may be understood by one person may not be understood by another. This idea suggests that the process to increasing health care understanding needs to be adjusted and tailored for each patient. Eliminate the one size fits all type of approach that is used in many health care systems (What we know, 2009).
Use simple, plain language when communicating with patients who have been identified with low health literacy. Plain language is using terms and communication that people can understand the first time it is read or heard (Quick guide to, 2014). Main elements of plain language include organizing information by importance, breaking info into smaller, easier to understand chunks, and avoid jargon or define technical terms (Quick guide to, 2014). Plain language should not only be used with verbal communication but also with all...

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