Information related to health is vital in ensuring a health population in a given geographical location. In the past, health literacy has been defined as the knowledge that is needed to read and understand clinical and medical information such as the labels of medicines or reading and correctly filling medical information forms in hospitals. Currently, health literacy covers many more aspects of the health of individuals in the society. The need to expand the definition of health has been prompted by the realization that many individuals in the society could better take care of themselves and their loved ones with more access to health information. A high number of people in Adult Education and Family Literacy (AEFL), non- native English speakers, low income earners, school dropouts, people of color and other disadvantaged minority groups have been observed to have low health literacy levels.
The current health literacy definition seeks to explore the risks such groups face and explores the lack of proper access to health that might exist in the community. If healthcare practitioners are aware of the need for health literacy to the community, they are at a better position to dispense both verbally and in written form, relevant and important health information. Defining healthcare literacy as a resource promotes awareness and responsibility among the members of a society. People equipped with the right health information can be able to and are motivated to question health decisions and explore available options to getting a better outcome for themselves and those around them. If a society has relevant information, they can make informed decisions to prevent and take care of themselves and ensure they do not get ill. People predisposed to certain diseases, such as diabetes and cancer through genetics can go for regular checkups and get an early diagnosis where applicable (Mooney & Prins, 2013).
Testing health literacy
Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine, newest vital sign and test for Functional Health literacy in Adults are some of the methods used to “measure” health literacy among members of the population. These methods are however limited because they only measure reading skills. There are more aspects such as ability to comprehend, transfer and utilize health information that should be assessed.
Consequences of low health literacy
Social economic factors have an effect on how/ whether individuals get access to health information. A poor person might not be educated or have access to health insurance and information about how/where they can get the right medical aid. A poor person is also likely to be living in a low income neighborhood where they would not get access to the correct medical information. Individuals that might have low levels of education might not be able to comply with medication that they are given since they cannot read and understand dosage information.
Disparity affects health literacy levels and how patients perceive information that they receive. There is high likelihood of a patient misunderstanding medical information that they are given if they are from different racial and ethnic backgrounds with the doctor. Low literacy levels also means that patients and/or their relatives cannot ask the right questions from the medical practitioners that attend to them (Mooney & Prins, 2013). Individuals with low health literacy levels might not fill out health forms properly and fail to give important medical history that can contribute to an accurate and timely diagnosis.
Increasing health literacy levels
Health literacy is a big step towards health improvement and outcomes in the society. Adult Education and Family Literacy (AEFL) has been involved in various initiatives to increase health literacy among members of the population. One of the initiatives has been the inclusion of health providers in study and outreach programs. The healthcare providers provide key information to learners to promote better outcomes using provided information by the practitioners. The AEFL educators also share information from their health literacy research findings with health practitioners. The practitioners then provide ideas on the best approaches that should be used in disseminating the health information to the learners. The practitioners are at a good position to offer advice since they know the people on the ground and interact with patients on day to day basis. Adult learning teachers, social workers, nurses, doctors, English as a second language speakers, curriculum experts and other healthcare professionals that deal with patients should be involved in setting up of material to be use in health literacy. Such professionals can help tailor the health literacy material to a level that will reach and impact a higher number of individuals in the society that need the information to improve their lives and those of their loved ones. The New York City Health Literacy Fellowship is an example of such a program that involves adult learners and health care professionals. Through such initiatives, learners can get involved and address other social, cultural and economic issues that they face, such as racial discrimination, poverty and cultural practices, and their effect on their health. Health professionals can advise such members using real life examples, and build up on such knowledge during future classes and lessons (Mooney & Prins, 2013).
Mooney, A. & Prins, E. (2013). Addressing the Health Literacy Needs of Adult education students. Practitioners Guide (4).Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy.