When listening or reading to the news, it is hard to avoid a topic on the health care crisis. It seems that everyone has an opinion on what needs to be fixed, but there is one underlying factor in the system that could be a key player in the delivery of health care for the future. Health literacy has become an issue that is affecting every part of the system, and could be a path leading to improvements in the system (Nutbeam, 2000). After watching the health literacy video exposing various Americans with low health literacy, I was completely shocked.
I had heard of health literacy before, but seeing this video was really eye-opening as to the extent that people cannot communicate with health care providers. I knew right away that this was a topic that I wanted to explore. When learning about health literacy, I found it important to note the similarities and differences in health literacy and literacy. Literacy can be defined as one’s ability to read, write, or understand written and spoken language in his or her native language.
Health literacy is different to literacy, as it is one’s ability to understand the terms of health and apply that knowledge within the scope of health care (Mayer and Villaire, 2007). However, literacy plays an undeniable role in health literacy, in that those that are illiterate will have an even harder time when trying to understand health terms. While watching the movie about health literacy in class, I could not help but be disturbed when watching adults that had the literacy levels of middle school children (Kalmbach, 2003). It made me wonder how many people are illiterate in the country, and how this is playing a role in health care.
The National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) offers extensive information on past studies done on adults for literacy. A study conducted in 2003 showed that thirty million adults (about fourteen percent) had literacy levels below basic, which includes simple, minimal skills. In addition, sixty-three million, or twenty-nine percent of adults, had a literacy level of “basic,” which means that simple, everyday skills are met, but nothing beyond that. Knowing this, it is clear that there is a problem in America with literacy in adults.
With adults that cannot meet even intermediate literacy skills, that means that over 100 million adults are health illiterate because people that are illiterate tend to also be health illiterate (“National Assessment,” 2003). Some of these adults may have health care plans, and their lack of literacy may be preventing them from understanding those plans and understanding the services with which they are provided through those plans. Because there is correlation with literacy and socio-economic class, I believe that there needs to be more emphasis put on educating those that have not been properly educated (Mayer and Villaire, 2007).
Healthy People 2020 has a great system for approaching this goal in terms of health literacy, but more promotion of this movement is critical (“Educational and Community-Based,” 2011). In the movie, Mr. Brown reads at the fourth-grade level. Due to this low literacy level, he says that he does not like going to the doctor because of the amount of paperwork he needs to fill out. Even being someone that can read at a proficient level, I can agree with Mr. Brown that filling out paperwork at a doctor’s office can be stressful.
There are many abbreviations and words that relate to health care that I simply do not know. However, because of my literacy level, I am able to overcome some of these problems and figure out what the form is asking. It concerns me that people of a low literacy level such as Mr. Brown’s would not be able to do this problem-solving successfully (Kalmbach, 2003). There is no doubt that this can lead to medical miscommunications between the patient and the doctor in regards to billing, medical background information, and future diagnoses and prescriptions.
These miscommunications can be costly for insurers, those paying out-of-pocket, and the physicians (Mayer and Villaire, 2007). As a college student, I still have much to learn about living independently without the help of my parents. After learning about health literacy, I feel that I need to educate myself and become more health literate. Because I am a biology major, and I am interested in science, I do try to communicate well and fully understand what my doctor is telling me, but I do not always ask all of the questions needed to improve my health literacy.
For example, when I am prescribed a medication, I normally take it without knowing why I am taking that specific dosage, what it will do for me, what side-effects it may cause, etc. Those are questions that I, and others that go to a physician, should be asking. College students are in the years where they prepare for living on our own. Part of that preparation should be becoming more health literate in order to make the best decisions regarding health care options in the present and future. In a study of college students, 21. % of the students could not appropriately take a medication four times throughout one day, and 41. 4% would not figure out financing for primary care when taking family size and income into consideration. Since these are issues that may be in the near future for college students, this implies that something needs to be done to better educate students. Melinda Ickes and Randall Cottrell (2010) say that a possible solution to improving health literacy would be to offer consumer health courses.
I believe that this could be an option, but there needs to be a great incentive, or it must be mandatory for students to take these courses; with the combination of a busy course load and students simply not knowing their health literacy levels, many students may not enroll. One growing issue with health literacy that I find extremely interesting is the effect that the Internet has played in health care over the past couple decades (Ickes and Cottrell, 2010). As more information about health care is available on the Internet, many people find it more convenient to self-diagnose themselves instead of making the trip to the doctor.
I know that when I have a health problem, one of the first things that I do is look it up on a website such as WebMD. While some people, like myself, know that this is not sufficient information, others that are not as health literate may not understand that the most reliable source is a face-to-face interaction with a physician. When a doctor visit becomes necessary, doctors may then have the task of re-teaching the medical information if a person relied heavily on the wrong information from the Internet.
This is not just a problem locally or nationally. The Internet is worldwide, so this problem of becoming Internet-dependent for health care may be affecting global health literacy and therefore the quality of global health care. Though those that do not have access to health insurance and cannot see a physician may find this to be easy access at the fingertips, proper health literacy is needed to interpret the information in a way that is safe (Lancellotti-Young and Suk, n. . ). Because I want to be a genetic counselor, health literacy will definitely play a major role in my future practice. Genetic counselors are responsible for doing genetic tests, interpreting those tests, and communicating results with patients effectively. Having a good understanding of the health literacy of my patients will be critical when advising them to make safe decisions for their health and the health of their future children.
Especially in regard to sex education and prevention, health literacy is a problem that needs to be addressed in a major way. With more understanding of the benefits and results of genetic testing and prenatal care, patients may be able to make adjustments related to health and financing health care (“Health Literacy,” 2010). In my practice, I would highly value health literacy and make an effort to incorporate health literacy education into my practice as much as possible. Health literacy is a growing topic in health care, as it should be.
Someone that can effectively communicate with a physician well may be saving time and money for themselves, the physician, and the insurance provider. However, many adults that are responsible for their own health care are not health-literate on a proficient level. While current news has put emphasis on many aspects of health care such as financing and access, health literacy should be emphasized more, especially because it could potentially benefit those financing and access issues (Nutbeam 2000).
Watching the health literacy video gave me a perspective on health care that I did not have before. Not only did I begin to learn of this issue on a national level, but I realized that I need to educate myself so that I can become more health literate to be a better contributor to the health care system. Health literacy follows each person that interacts with the health care system, whether he or she is a receiver or provider of that care.