Health literacy, along with health numeracy skills, can influence the quality of care delivery across the spectrum of settings and is vital to maintaining patients’ engagement in their own health. Health literacy is defined as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information needed to make appropriate health decisions and services needed to prevent or treat illness” (Health Resources and Services Administration [HRSA], 2015).

The ineffectiveness of healthcare literacy in the current health care climate is not a new issue, however it is as relevant as ever. People need information they can understand and use to make the best decisions for their health. When organizations or people create and give others health information that is too difficult for them to understand, we create a health literacy problem. When we expect them to figure out health services with many unfamiliar, confusing or even conflicting steps, we also create a health literacy problem (Brach, C., Keller, D., Hernandez, L. M., Baur, C., Dreyer, B., Parker, R., … Schillinger, D., 2012).

Health information can overwhelm even persons with advanced literacy skills. Medical science progresses rapidly. What people may have learned about health or biology during their school years often becomes outdated or forgotten, or it is incomplete. Moreover, health information provided in a stressful or unfamiliar situation is unlikely to be retained. People with limited health literacy often lack knowledge or have misinformation about the body as well as the nature and causes of disease (Marshall, E., & Broome, M., 2017).  Without this knowledge, they may not understand the relationship between lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise and various health outcomes.

Despite the growing interest in health literacy, little research has been done around health professionals’ knowledge of health literacy or understandings of the barriers to health literacy that patients face when navigating the health care system.  Improving both the healthcare workers knowledge and those of their patients decreases the barriers that prevent patients from seeking and receiving proper care (Loan, L., Parnell, T., Stichler, J., Boyle, D., Allen, P., & Barton, A., 2017).

Health literacy may cover choosing and comparing different health plans, prescription drug premiums, copays, and deductibles. As medical science is continuously evolving and progressing, it is easy to understand how health information can confuse and even overwhelm the average healthcare consumer. Improving health literacy is the responsibility of health organizations, healthcare systems, and healthcare professionals worldwide. It is critical for patients to develop health literacy so that they can take a more proactive role in their health. When patients are actively engaged, they are able to make more informed decisions which increases patient satisfaction, adherence, and can ultimately improve outcomes(Lambert, M., Luke, J., Downey, B., Crengle, S., Kelaher, M., & Smylie, J., 2015).  Patient empowerment, engagement, activation, and maximized health outcomes will not be achieved unless assurance of health literacy is applied universally for every patient, every time, in every health care encounter, and across all environments of care (Loan, L., Parnell, T., Stichler, J., Boyle, D., Allen, P., & Barton, A., 2017).

References

Brach, C., Keller, D., Hernandez, L. M., Baur, C., Dreyer, B., Parker, R., … Schillinger,

D. (2012). Ten attributes of health literate health care organizations. Washington, DC:

Institute of Medicine. Retrieved from http://www.ahealthyunderstanding.org/

Portals/Documents1/IOM Ten Attributes Paper.pdf

Health Resources and Services Administration. (2015). Health literacy. Washington, DC:

Author. Retrieved from http://www.hrsa.gov/publichealth/healthliteracy/

Lambert, M., Luke, J., Downey, B., Crengle, S., Kelaher, M., & Smylie, J. (2015). Health

literacy: Health professionals’ understandings and their perceptions of barriers that

Indigenous patients encounter. Biomed Central Health Services Research,14.

doi:10.1186/s12913-014-0614-1

Loan, L., Parnell, T., Stichler, J., Boyle, D., Allen, P., & Barton, A. (2017). Call for

action: Nurses must play a critical role to enhance health literacy. The Journal of the

     American Academy of Nuring,66(11), 97-100. doi:10.1016/j.11003

Marshall, E., & Broome, M. (2017). Transformational Leadership in Nursing (2nd ed.).

New York, NY: Springer.

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