Health Literacy

Health Literacy is defined as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information & services needed to make appropriate health decisions. In the US, 36% of the population have basic or below basic literacy skills.

75 million English speaking Americans have limited health literacy making it difficult for them to understand and use basic health information. It is estimated that poor health literacy costs the US $106 – $236 billion per year, 5-10% of total health care expenditures.

Low health literacy is associated with :

  • Lack of knowledge and understanding of health conditions and services
  • Inability to implement appropriate self-care activities
  • Difficulty understanding medication instructions
  • Lower utilization of preventive care and services
  • Increased hospitalizations and health care costs
  • Worse health outcomes and increased mortality

Increasingly patients are required to make appropriate self-management decisions. Even highly educated people may find the system difficult to understand and navigate. Patients must self-navigate through and understand:

  • Disjointed health system
  • Layers of bureaucracy
  • Multiple doctors who may not be on the same page
  • Mix of public and private funding sources
  • Written communication with patient is mostly billing documents, not health information
  • Increasing numbers of prescribed drugs, their adverse effects and possible interactions
  • Medical jargon – long difficult spellings and pronunciation

Patients must be able to:

  • Describe symptoms/concerns
  • Analyze cost/benefits
  • Make self-management decisions

The Arkansas Partnership is actively involved in developing strategies to improve health literacy.