Half in U.S. have poor health literacy

Aug. 4, 2012 at 1:55 AM
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SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 4 (UPI) -- An estimated 77 million U.S. adults have trouble understanding basic health information, which impairs their ability to follow doctors' orders, researchers say.

Senior author Dr. Dean Schillinger of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues at the San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, said millions more simply lack the skills necessary to make clear, informed decisions about their own healthcare.

"Depending on how you define it, nearly half the U.S. population has poor health literacy skills," Schillinger said in a statement. "Over the last two decades, we have focused on what patients can do to improve their health literacy. In this report, we look at the other side of the health literacy coin, and focus on what healthcare systems can do."

Organizations that promote proper health literacy tend to make improving health literacy a priority at every level of the organization, measure health literacy, take into account the needs of their patients and avoid stigmatizing people who lack health literacy.

Those organizations also tend to provide easy access to health information, distributing easy-to-understand information, take health literacy into account when discussing medicines and train the healthcare workforce in health communication, in addition to letting patients know what their insurance policies cover and what the patient must pay.

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