How’s your health literacy?
Confused by your recent diagnosis and your doctor’s instructions? You’re not alone.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only 12 percent of U.S. adults have sufficient health literacy. A recent survey by MedTera, a marketing company for the health care industry, showed 54 percent of patients didn’t have the information they thought was needed to manage their illnesses after they left their doctors’ offices.
To remove that medical mystery, the National Patient Safety Foundation suggests you ask three simple questions of your health care providers:
|Help is available for the many Americans who need to improve their health literacy.|
1. What is my main problem?
2. What can I do about it?
3. Why is it important to do this?
The foundation’s Ask Me 3 program is designed to promote communication between health care providers and patients. Studies show people who understand health instructions make fewer mistakes when they take their medicine or prepare for a medical procedure.
“The number one cause of medical error has always been communication breakdown of some sort,” says Diane Pinakiewicz, president of the National Patient Safety Foundation. “Consumers need to be prepared when they enter the health care system to participate in their own care and communicate better as part of their health care team.”
Missing the message
Unfortunately, some patients still aren’t getting the literacy message.
A study involving more than 800 patients that was conducted by the American Academy of Family Physicians’ National Research Network found that patients at 10 primary care practices that promoted Ask Me 3 were no more likely to ask the three basic questions than patients who visited 10 other practices.
When the study was released in 2010, James Galliher, director of the National Research Network, said: “One of the problems with health literacy is that many patients with low health literacy may also have low levels of literacy, period. In fact, some patients may not be able to read at all.”
The National Patient Safety Foundation isn’t the only organization promoting health literacy. Health insurance companies also are doing their part.
Highmark Inc., an affiliate of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, seeks to improve health literacy among health care providers, Highmark employees, Highmark members and the community at large.
The website for Highmark members features all sorts of patient information, including how to prepare for a visit to the doctor and what questions to ask the doctor. Highmark has put a health literacy toolkit on its provider website and regularly addresses the issue in its provider newsletter. The company also has an internal task force that strives to educate its own workforce about health literacy, include “plain language” in member communications and use software to measure the readability of materials.
Highmark launched its health literacy initiative in 2009.
Dr. Rhonda Johnson, Highmark’s medical director for health equity and quality, says: “We want our members to feel empowered when they see their doctors, to feel more comfortable, more confident that they can manage their own health.”
Regardless of industrywide health literacy efforts, patients are advised to be sure they have a clear understanding about what they’ve being told during any health care visit, whether it’s at a hospital, doctor’s office or pharmacy.
“If there is any confusion, ask more questions,” says Susan Pisano, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group for health insurers.