Advancements in medical practices and treatments have increased life expectancy and expanded treatment options. However, a significant barrier to effective healthcare is the lack of health literacy. Health Literacy refers to the capacity to obtain and understand health information. Health Literacy disparities are drawn along many lines including socioeconomic status, native languages, cultural backgrounds, and age.
The lack of health literacy, makes it difficult to understand how our health is progressing, what our treatment options are, and how those options will affect our minds, bodies, and wallets. For us to be in control of our health’s journey, it’s important to recognize and treat weakened health literacy.
Common causes of health literacy decline include poorly worded or inconclusive language, one-sided medical conversations, and low social-concordance. Each of these pose challenges to patients, practitioners, and families alike, and require collaborative solutions to address.
Much of this can be addressed through good practices in engaging with your caregivers and doctors. Reiterating the importance of clear, open communication can help everyone feel heard and informed throughout a doctor’s visit. This can also be enabled by the evidenced “teach-back” approach where you reiterate to your doctor what they have told you in an effort to make sure everyone is comprehending the same topic.. This breaks down barriers of communication and leads to informed decision making.
We can also use the help of literacy mediators, those who help bridge the gap of understanding between doctors and patients. These mediators could be family members, friends or other experts in the field. You can find literacy mediators all around you, and reaching out for help could be the difference between suffering in silence and receiving successful, life changing care. Remember that wherever you are in your health journey, there are people available for guidance, even outside of your doctor’s office.
In short, here are some great guidelines to follow to ensure you’re getting the most out of your healthcare professionals.
- Engage in clear, open communication
- Use the “Teach-Back” technique
- Ask questions and be transparent
- Seek guidance from friends, family members, or outside experts
- Welcome literacy mediators
No matter what stage of your journey you’re on, these simple practices could change the course of your healthcare journey for the better