What Is Your Health Literacy Quotient?
Are you familiar with Helen Osborne? I’ll be honest; I wasn’t until recently. Ms. Osborne is the person who pioneered the establishment of Health Literacy Month.
She is also the author of the book titled Health Literacy From A to Z: Practical Ways to Communicate Your Health Message.
October has been designated as Health Literacy Month for more than 20 years now. It’s a time of international observance. A variety of agencies and organizations work collaboratively to integrate and expand the mission of health literacy.
Those groups include hospitals, health centers, literacy programs and libraries. As well as social service agencies, businesses and professional associations. Plus government agencies, consumer alliances and many others.
The Institute for Healthcare Advancement (IHA) is the official sponsor of Health Literacy Month. This year’s goal is to shift from health literacy awareness to action.
Defining Health Literacy
Before we go any farther, let’s define health literacy so we’re on the same page. There are actually two definitions.
Personal health literacy is the degree to which individuals can find, understand and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.
Organizational health literacy is the degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.
The goal is to promote the importance of understandable health information. And the importance of understanding your own health.
The Patriot Health Alliance wants to piggyback on this during October. We want to help our customers and readers better understand their individual health situation. And to act on it if necessary.
The Challenges of Health Literacy
Why is health literacy important? Because we all need to be able to find, understand and use health information and services.
Taking care of our health is part of everyday life. Not just when we visit a doctor, clinic or hospital. Health literacy can help us prevent health problems. As well as better manage those problems and unexpected situations.
Where it gets especially challenging is when we’re not familiar with medical terms or how our bodies work. Or when we have to interpret statistics to evaluate risks and benefits from certain treatments.
We can also get scared and confused after being diagnosed with an illness or condition. And sometimes our self-care can be complicated.
Explain It in Clear Language, Doc
How can individuals, communities, and organizations improve health literacy? A National Action Plan was created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to answer that question.
The 73-page plan is very comprehensive, so I’ll just mention some of the highlights.
The premise of the plan is that too many people face difficulties as they try to use the healthcare system in America. That’s partly due to there being too great of a gap between the knowledge healthcare providers have and what patients understand.
The call is for healthcare professionals to communicate in plain language so patients will understand and wish to adopt healthy behaviors those professionals recommend.
7 Action Plan Goals
The goals outlined in the plan include:
- Develop and disseminate health and safety information that is accurate, accessible and actionable.
- Promote changes in the healthcare delivery system that improve health information, communication, informed decision-making and access to health services.
- Incorporate accurate, standards-based and developmentally appropriate health and science information and curricula in childcare and education through the university level.
- Support and expand local efforts to provide adult education, English-language instruction, and culturally and linguistically appropriate health information services in the community.
- Build partnerships, develop guidance and change policies.
- Increase basic research and the development, implementation, and evaluation of practices and interventions to improve health literacy.
- Increase the dissemination and use of evidence-based health literacy practices and interventions.
Learn Your Family Health History
The Penn State University health news site recommends this activity. Discuss with older relatives health conditions that have genetic links.
Dr. Mack Ruffin is chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Penn State. He says many of his patients have not had those conversations with relatives.
“If you are in your 50s or 60s and your parents are still living, you need to make sure you get that information soon,” he said. “I’m amazed how many adults don’t understand their own personal health history and what surgeries they had as a child.”
He recommends learning the health history of all first-degree relatives. Including parents and siblings. Also, try to discover what deceased relatives died from and how old they were when they were diagnosed and when they passed away.
“A lot of diseases have genetic components,” he said. “We try to tailor what we recommend to people based on their family history.”
Improve Your Health Literacy Now
If you are a healthcare professional or caregiver, you may want to visit the IHA website to check out their Solutions Center. It’s an online hub of health literacy resources and tools.
It serves and connects health professionals from a wide variety of organizations. And equips them with the most innovative tools in the field.
According to Revere Health, a physician group in Utah, more than 77 million American adults have a difficult time understanding and acting on health information.
If you believe you are one of them, this month would be a good time to improve your health literacy.