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Home » News » Health » Health Literacy, What Is It?

Health Literacy, What Is It?

Health Literacy, What Is It?

December 15, 2012

Sara Walz


Health literacy is an individual’s ability to read and understand healthcare information and their capability to use that information to make informed healthcare decisions. 

Many people, for various reasons, do not fully understand the healthcare information presented to them. This includes information, such as medication instructions, before and after procedure instructions or even diet instructions.  Not understanding healthcare information can lead to serious complications or even death. 

The key to improving health literacy is good, simple communication.  Health care professionals need to sometimes be reminded that not everyone speaks or understands medical terminology. 

You as the patient need to have the courage to remind your physician to speak to you in plain language.  If you do not understand something, do not be afraid or embarrassed to tell your physician or nurse. Your clinicians are in the business of helping people with their healthcare needs.  

If you do not feel your physician is speaking to you in a manner you can easily understand, then it is your right to find a physician that will. Ask questions. In fact make a list of questions before you go to the doctor’s office and be sure to bring your medications with you so you can verify the medication instructions if you need to. 

Before you leave the physician’s office or hospital repeat your healthcare instructions back to your doctor or nurse to verify that you have all of the relevant information and instructions. 

You may also consider bringing a trusted friend or family member along with you to your medical appointment to assist you with communication. 

Many people have well developed coping skills to hide limited literacy. It is time to get over your fear of embarrassment.  

It can be very dangerous for you to only pretend to understand your healthcare information.  Here’s to better communication!

Sara Walz a Communicable Disease Nurse for the Jackson County Health Department and a member of the Health Education Advisory Board for the City of Lee’s Summit.

The Lee’s Summit Health Education Advisory Board is a Mayor-appointed, volunteer board that promotes and advocates community health by assessing health issues, educating the public and government agencies, developing plans to address health issues, encouraging partnerships and evaluating the outcomes.




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