Taking care of ourselves is an important part of life. But more than that, we should be able to prevent, manage and understand any health problems that arise. This is called health literacy.
Health literacy is important because it helps people find the right health care and services, take care of a chronic condition or disease, or simply maintain their health and wellness.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine define health literacy as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.”
Health literacy is much more than being able to read. The National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM) wrote that it requires several skills: reading and listening, as well as analytical and decision-making, then the ability to apply these skills together when it comes to health situation.
Health.gov gave some examples which involve math skills: calculating cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and measuring medications. Or when deciding between different health plans or prescription drug coverage, you need to calculate the differences in premiums, co-pays and deductibles.
Talking out loud about any health concerns is also important. Patients need the ability to talk about their health concerns and to accurately describe any symptoms. Asking the right questions and understanding medical advice is part of health literacy, said NN/LM.
Even people with these skills can face health literacy issues when they navigate the health care system. Filling out forms and finding providers and services can be challenging. Practicing self-care and chronic-disease management can be even greater challenges, stated Health.gov.
Some may be unfamiliar with medical terms or be unable to understand statistics and assess risks and benefits. Imagine being diagnosed with a serious illness — being confused and scared can also affect someone’s health literacy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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"Health Literacy Fact Sheets." Nationalacademies.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2016.
"Health Literacy | National Network of Libraries of Medicine." N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2016.
"Understanding Health Literacy | Health Literacy | CDC." N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2016.