News & Research, Patient Education, Society, Treatment

Low Health Literacy Rates

The typical patient leaves their doctor’s office only remembering about half of the information given. Whether it’s being told too many things at once or not understanding all that you’re told, more than 90 million Americans don’t understand basic health information. And a patient’s level of education doesn’t matter much in what they can and can’t understand.

While medical education is the primary place for this problem to be remedied, according to the article author, patients aren’t passive participants.

Do not wait until doctors become better at communicating. If you want the best medical care, you have to take the initiative. If the doctor says something you do not understand, ask that it be repeated in simpler language. If you are given a new set of instructions, repeat them back to the doctor to confirm your understanding. If you are given a new device to use, demonstrate how you think you are to use it.

Insist that conversations about serious medical matters take place when you are dressed and in the doctor’s office. Take notes or take along an advocate who can take notes for you. Better yet, tape-record the conversation to replay it at home for you and your family or another doctor.

Good luck getting your doc to let you record your conversation, but the rest of the author’s suggestions are wise. I always take notes — sloppy, unintelligible notes, so Hart goes to my significant appointments with me. Try to take a family member with you instead of a friend, so health privacy laws don’t interfere with the person’s ability to advocate.

More information on health literacy:

3 thoughts on “Low Health Literacy Rates”

  1. Thanks for the suggestion, anonymous tipster.

    Lots of people tell me that their pharmacists art vital in their health maintenance. It makes a lot of sense. They have the knowledge and many of them went into the field with the goal of helping people.


  2. Pharmacists’ instructions are a common source of difficulty, as they have to be condensed to fit on the label, and there is often either a lack of time or a lack of adequate privacy at the pharmacy to seek adequate clarification.

    Don’t be afraid about calling the pharmacy later and asking for clarification if you are unclear. Medication can’t help you if it is taken incorrectly…or not at all!

    And this is a particular problem with migraine prevention medications–unless taken properly, and for a long enough period of time, it can’t help you.

  3. Another useful resource is the book, “Advancing health literacy: A framework for understanding and action” published by Jossey-Bass.

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