Health literacy is critical in addressing healthcare inequities

April 3, 2023

Each day, millions of people head to the doctor’s office for an appointment, hoping to find out what is ailing them and how to alleviate it. However, for many of these patients, it is difficult to understand whatever test results, instructions for medication, or insurance forms that the doctor presents them with. In this situation lies the issue of poor health literacy, which is when the health-related information organizations provide is not easy for patients to understand. This issue continues to disproportionately affect communities of non-English speakers as well as those who are low-income or a part of older generations. 

Limited health literacy remains a barrier that hinders individuals’ from getting the treatment they need. Studies done by organizations such as the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) have demonstrated that those with limited health literacy are less likely to use preventative measures (such as getting flu shot or a mammogram), more likely to struggle with managing chronic illness including asthma and diabetes. Furthermore, not fully understanding a doctor’s instructions can lead to making dangerous mistakes when a patient takes medication or treatment. 

Providing audiences with efficient access to information about public health and healthcare allows them to make more informed decisions about their health. Yet, according to a report by the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), only 12% of American adults are proficient in their ability to make informed health-related decisions. To combat this, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) outlines a series of three goals for improving nationwide health literacy in their Health Literacy Action Plan: sharing accurate, accessible, actionable health information; ensuring clear communication; and incorporating health literacy curriculum in schools, from the preschools to the universities. To make information more inclusive to all populations, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that patient forms and printed materials, such as medical history forms, insurance forms, and at-home care instructions, be translated into plain language rather than legal and medical prose as well as be provided in multiple languages.

Take this quiz to test your own health literacy skills!


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