Do you know the difference between hypertension and high blood pressure? Between an MI and a heart attack? Between LDL and HDL?*
As health care becomes more complex, you may feel as if you need a medical degree to understand your own well-being. More to the point, effective communication with your health care provider is essential to ensure that you are an active partner in your care, understand your treatment options, participate fully in your recovery, and follow your doctor’s recommendations.
According to the US Department of Health & Human Services, health literacy is “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” Unfortunately, more than 35% of US adults are health illiterate. This percentage is much higher for those over 65.
Before even seeing a doctor or other provider, a degree of literacy is required just to navigate the healthcare system, locate in-network providers and complete the required forms and paperwork. The ability to share health history and symptoms with providers is another element of the medical visit that can be impacted by health literacy.
Health literacy also involves math skills. For example, it is necessary to understand concepts such as risk, to calculate cholesterol and blood sugar levels, measure medications and understand nutrition labels. Complex math skills are also required to compare health plans, calculate co-pays and deductibles.
A basic understanding of biology and the way the human body works is another component of health literacy. This knowledge is required to comprehend the cause of illness, the relationship between lifestyle choices and health, and the need for certain tests and procedures.
Health literacy is not necessarily related to formal education. These skills and concepts are not taught in school. Many people struggle in at least one of these areas. Some experience anxiety when visiting the doctor which can affect their ability to process information.
You can overcome some of these challenges by preparing in advance for your doctor’s visit.
- Make a list of your medications, including doses
- Make a list of questions about your condition
- Write down your medical history, including any hospitalizations and surgery
- Write down your symptoms
- Write down what your clinician says (i.e. suggestions, diagnosis, prescribed medications, tests ordered)
- Bring a family member, friend or professional advocate
Here are more tips on preparing for a doctor’s visit from the National Institutes of Health.
Care Answered can help you navigate the healthcare system, understand your benefits, make sense of your diagnosis and treatment options, and select the most appropriate level of care. Contact us for more information.
*Hypertension is another name for high blood pressure. MI stands for myocardial infarction, the medical term for a heart attack. LDL is low-density lipoprotein, also known as “bad” cholesterol. HDL is high-density lipoprotein, also known as “good” cholesterol.