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Self-Care

Growth of Low Health Literacy Is Alarming


An estimated $73 billion will be spent this year on extra doctor visits, hospitalizations or longer hospital stays, simply because patients didn’t understand their doctor’s instructions on prescriptions, appointment slips, informed consent documents, insurance forms, and/or other health educational materials, according to the American Medical Association Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the AMA.

The following tips have been offered by Dr. Ruth Parker, associate professor of medicine at Emory University, to help you better understand the healthcare information you receive:

  • If you have difficulty understanding what your doctor says or are confused, bring a friend or family member to your appointment;

  • Try to identify important questions regarding your condition, disease, illness, or treatment and discuss them during your doctor’s visit;

  • When you are given instructions for self-care of medical problems, review them with the doctor to be sure you correctly understand what you need to know to take care of yourself;

  • Find out who you should call if you have questions later on;

  • Ask your doctor to explain information to you in language you understand;

  • Take along all your medications to each doctor visit so he/she can see what you are currently taking; and

  • Do not be afraid to ask for help. Healthcare professionals are there to help you. You are not alone. Many patients have problems with health literacy.

With more than 90 million Americans, or 46 percent of the adult population, considered functionally illiterate today, low health literacy has become a dangerous and alarming public health issue. Research indicates that patients with low health literacy also are more likely to suffer from poor health status and/or from adverse effects from serious medical errors because they do not properly understand their illness or treatment, said the AMA Foundation.

For more information on health literacy, contact Kristin Gover of the AMA Foundation’s Program on Health Literacy at (312) 464-5357, or e-mail Kristin_Gover@AMA-ASSN.org.

— Lyn Wagner —


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