Doctors routinely prescribe the medications required to get you back to a healthy state, but are you aware of the proper dosage for those meds?
When you get a report back from the lab that is confusing, are you comfortable with asking your doctor about the results?
When you read the Nutrition Facts Label when grocery shopping, do you really know what all the information means?
Being able to answer “YES” to those questions means that you have a high health literacy, according to the good folks at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Jodi Duckhorn serves as the Director of Risk Communications for the FDA, and it is her job to ensure that the average person is able to understand all the messages sent out by the FDA. This ensures that more people will be health literate, and therefore able to make better health decisions.
Health Literacy Explained
When asked to explain what health literacy is, Duckhorn responded that it is the ability to understand the basics of health issues and medical services so that making an informed health decision is that much easier.
Unfortunately, it is estimate that only about 12% of the adult population in the U.S. an be described as having high health literacy, as per the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. The remaining 88% of the population may not have the essential knowledge required to make informed decisions about their health.
The federal Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, believes that health literacy begins with a basic knowledge of subjects such as heart health and nutrition. Your doctor will pass on all the information you need to make good health decisions, but too many people fail to ask questions when they do not fully understand what they are being told.
Duckworth is of the belief that it is those lack of questions that can lead to confusion and poor health choices. For example, a patient being told that their test results are “negative” may think that negative means a bad result as opposed to a good one. If they fail to seek further information, they may leave the doctor’s office believing that they are in poor health when they are actually fine.
The Negative Consequences of Low Health Literacy
The most obvious negative consequence of having reduced health literacy means that you feel ill-equipped to ask pertinent questions and make important healthcare decisions. It also makes it close to impossible to interpret even the most basic lab results, or to understand things such as dosages and information on nutrition labels.
Being unaware of the healthcare options available to you also means an increased risk of hospitalization. Prevention is one of the best ways to stay healthy, but if you are unaware of the services that are out there, prevention often goes out the window, leading to higher health costs.
The FDA and the Promotion of Health Literacy
The FDA takes health literacy extremely seriously, which is why they go out of their way to communicate complex health topics in a manner that the layman can understand. They use a variety of different techniques to get accurate information out to the patient, as well as to the healthcare providers who look after them.