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Improve Your Health Literacy Knowledge Today!

October 13, 2015 | Dr. Mary Williams, RN, DC | Comments

Besides being the month for pumpkin-picking and hot apple cider-sipping, October is also Health Literacy Month! What is health literacy, you ask? Well, it's the ability to understand, read, and make health and lifestyle decisions based upon health information. Why is there an entire month dedicated to it? Because there is often a significant gap in how health information is communicated versus whether it is understood.

In fact, nine out of ten adults have some difficulty using routine health information, which means many different adults with varying abilities and skills have trouble maximizing the health benefits that come with being health-savvy. This creates a problem because those who struggle with understanding routine health information are more likely to have difficulty controlling chronic conditions, skip important medical tests and screenings, and even visit the emergency room more often. By dedicating a month to improving health literacy awareness, the goal is to help people feel more comfortable asking questions about their own health and knowing where to go to get additional answers should you want more information.

Want to learn more about how you can improve your health literacy? Good! I made this handy little list of tips to help you do just that.

Prior to Your Appointment:

  • Make a list of your symptoms and when they started.
  • Don't forget to bring a list of your current medications and why you're taking them.
  • If you have any initial questions you want to ask the doctor, write them down, and bring along some extra paper so that you can write down the doctor's answers or any other notes you don't want to forget.

At Your Appointment:

  • When speaking with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist, ask them to use familiar language that you can understand and write down their information.
  • Don't be shy about asking questions, especially if something isn't particularly clear.
  • Ask for written materials that are written in an easy to read format for non-medical professionals (like yourself).
  • Be sure to take down the name, number, and email of the person who you are to call in case you think of or have any other additional questions after you get home.

Building Health Literacy at Home and in Your Community:

  • The library is a great tool to build health literacy. Ask your librarian how to find up-to-date, clearly written health information.
  • Also take advantage of any classes offered by your local library that will help you learn how to navigate and use the Internet and social media tools. These can help teach you how to do your own Web searches for the health information you need.
  • Many community clinics and hospitals offer community programs either at the clinic itself, your local library, or even some local faith-based organizations and meeting places. Check their calendar of events to find out when these classes are being held. If you don't see any, request some!
  • Support local initiatives to increase health literacy in schools, like the first aid program and other classes for kids (like how to wash your hands properly).

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