Health literacy is the ability to find and understand basic health and medical information and services so that you can make smart choices about your health. It plays an important – and often overlooked – role in our wellness. Low health literacy can often be a hidden cause of poor health. Studies have shown health literacy to be a better predictor of our wellness than age, income, race, or education level.
Health literacy plays an important role in your life because it impacts almost every aspect of your health and health care, including:
- Taking your medicine correctly
- Knowing what questions to ask your doctor (or even knowing that it’s okay to ask your doctor questions)
- Being able to choose the right cold medicine at the drug store
- Speaking up if the doctor hasn’t washed her hands, or if you need the nurse to repeat directions
- Making sense of nutrition labels on foods
- Understanding the benefits and risks of a treatment
- Comprehending the legal language in a consent form or other materials, such as a patient bill of rights or health proxy
If any of these things have confused you before, you are not alone. More than 90 million Americans suffer from low health literacy. It cuts across every racial, economic, and social boundary – and nearly all of us experience it at some point.
Many studies have shown that people with low health literacy are less likely to access screening and prevention services, take medications as directed, or find their way through the health care system.
Low health literacy is common – and it is costly. The annual expense to the country is estimated at more than $100 billion dollars.
The cost to the individual is harder to calculate, but low health literacy can impact us physically, emotionally, and financially.
The good news is that low health literacy is treatable and beatable! You can improve your ability to find and understand health and medical information with little or no cost to you. It’s easy to do. Check out our Patients & Caregivers section on this web site to help get started on the road to higher health literacy!