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Health Literacy

Many American adults have difficulty understanding and acting upon health information. Low health literacy threatens every person in the U.S. regardless of age, race, education, or income.

What is Health Literacy?

  • Health Literacy is the ability to read, understand, and use basic health information to make effective decisions and follow instructions for treatment. 
  • Low Health Literacy is one of the least recognized yet most widespread challenges to achieving better health outcomes and lowering health care costs in the United States. Despite this fact, many health care providers, payers and policymakers remain largely unaware of the extent of the problem
  • Even highly literate people may have trouble obtaining, understanding, and using health information: a surgeon may have trouble using an insurance form, a science teacher may not understand information about a test of brain function, and an accountant may not know when to get a mammogram.

How Does Low Health Literacy Affect Americans?

  • Medication errors occur when an individual does not understand instructions on a medicine bottle. Medication errors lead to missed doses and an assumption of non-compliance.
  • Medical forms may be incomplete, leaving health care providers unaware of patient risk factors or pre-existing conditions.
  • Healthcare is often delayed because of difficulty navigating the healthcare system or inability to understand appointment slips.
  • Less knowledge about their medical conditions and treatment leads to poor disease management and increased hospital stays.

What Can Be Done to Improve Health Literacy?

  • Patients - learn what questions to ask doctors, nurses, or pharmacists to be sure you get all the important information on health care and medications. Tips for clear health communications.
  • Healthcare Providers - create a shame-free environment by encouraging patients to ask more questions, creating and using patient-friendly written/visual materials and taking the time to have patients explain, in their own words, any directions given.

Where Can I Learn More?

What is the Mecklenburg County Health Department doing to address low health literacy?

Your health department is taking to steps to educate the healthcare providers and the community about health literacy. Awareness is the first step to addressing this issue. 

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