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Health Literacy Essay

This year marks one of the most significant years in the history of the United States of America. The election of 2008 will set in motion a new era for the US. With a lame duck president currently in office there is a 100 percent chance that things are going to change. One of the hot button issues during the campaign season is health care. However, in order to change health care, the United States must first be health literate.

In order to do so the following should be known: the definition of health literacy, what health literacy skills are and why they are important, the history behind health literacy, and how health literacy affects the economy. First, to become health literate one must know the definition of this term. Being health literate does not mean hitting the gym everyday or trying the latest greatest fad diet. Health literacy can best be defined as “The degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions (2000).

” It really is quite basic in definition but is somehow being overlooked in the United States today. The big problem is not that US citizens are making unwise choices when it comes to health care. The big problem is that US citizens do not know how to get the information about the right decisions, process a right or wrong decision or even understand basic information that relates the to health care and other health services.

According to the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, health literacy includes the following: “The ability to understand instructions on prescription drug bottles, appointment slips, medical education brochures, doctor’s directions and consent forms, and the ability to negotiate complex health care systems (Glassman, 2008). ” Be wary of the term literacy. Being health literate is not just having the ability to read. Health literacy “requires a complex group of reading, listening, analytical, and decision-making skills, and the ability to apply these skills to health situations (Glassman, 2008).

” To know how to put health literacy to work in a country that is moving towards being centered on the consumer, the consumer must have health literacy skills. It seems as if every trip to the doctor’s office always starts with a stack of forms, questionnaires, and personal information sheets. From the outset the patient’s health literacy is being tested. Some other tasks that a patient must do are as follows: “evaluate information for credibility and accuracy, analyze risks and rewards, calculate dosages, interpret test results, and locate additional health information (Glassman, 2008).

” It is easy to overlook some of these skills, but the fact remains that a big portion of people in the United States do no possess these skills. Miscalculating a prescription that cost $150 could get pretty expensive. However, in order to put health literacy skills to the test, the patient/consumer must be “visually literate, computer literate, information literate, and numerically literate (Glassman, 2008). ” So where and when did this big push for the nation to be literate in health issues come from?

In 1998 the American Medical Association (AMA) was the first group to advocate the belief that health illiterate patients affect medical diagnosis and treatments (AMA, 2007). The same article also stated that “poor health literacy is a stronger predictor of a person’s health than age, income, employment status, education level, and race. ” Being health literate or illiterate can make you younger or older! The biggest push the make the United States a health literate nation might just come from this stat.

“Individuals with limited health literacy incur medical expenses that are up to four times greater than patients with adequate literacy skills, costing the health care system billions of dollars every year in unnecessary doctor visits and hospital stays (AMA, 2007). ” That is billions not millions! Billions of dollars are lost yearly do to patients missing a doctor’s visit and follow-up appointments, taking medications of schedule, and not being able to understand “take on an empty stomach” (Glassman, 2008).

” Being health illiterate does not impact just the individual, but the society as a whole. Health literacy has a huge roll in the economy. The National Academy on an Aging Society estimated that additional health cost due to a low rate of health literacy was over $73 billion in 1998 dollars (NAAS, 1998). That number would be much larger ten years later. Also, those with low health literacy may have fewer visit to the doctor but end up using more hospital resources than those who are health literate (Glassman, 2008).

Therefore, the more hospital resources used, the more expensive health care becomes. Each individual is not only affecting their own bank account, but they are also affecting someone else’s as well. It is quite startling that a nation as advanced as the United States could be this illiterate when it comes to an important issue like health care. Not being able to answer basic questions on a survey or medical history form is a big problem. Not being able to follow directions on a prescription bottle can end up costing billions of dollars.

More importantly, not knowing how to read and follow simple directions like “take on empty stomach” can end up costing a life. Health literacy is a major issue in this country. It is an issue that has to be addressed. No longer can the United States afford to let billions and billions of dollars be spend foolishly in our health care systems. The evidence is there. Now it is time for a solution. It is time to begin educating people of all socioeconomic status of how to properly handle their medical matters.

Continuing to ignore a health illiterate nation will only lead to more money being wasted and more people suffering. The time to start a positive change is now. Refusing to respond and educate people both young and old will only make United States even more broke and sick. Teaching proper health literacy will not cure any problems, but it can definitely help prevent them. References AMA Foundation, (2007, September 04). Health literacy. Retrieved January 30, 2008, from Health Literacy Web site: http://www. ama-assn. org/ama/pub/category/8115. html Glassman, Penny (2008, January 17).

Health literacy. Retrieved January 30, 2008, from Health Literacy Web site: http://nnlm. gov/outreach/consumer/hlthlit. html The Center for Health Care Strategies and National Academy on an Aging Society, (1998). Fact sheet. Retrieved January 30, 2008, from National Academy on an Aging Society Web site: http://www. agingsociety. org/agingsociety/publications/fact/fact_low. html United States Department of Health and Human Services, (2000). Healthy People 2010. Retrieved January 30, 2008, from Healthy People 2010 Web site: http://www. healthypeople. gov/Document/pdf/uih/2010uih. pdf.


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