Health Literacy: How to Take Control of Your Own Health Journey

Share with your network

Only 12% of American adults have proficient health literacy skills. In order to understand why so many Americans struggle with health literacy, we must first learn what it means to have good health literacy.

What is health literacy?

Patients with good health literacy can make informed decisions to protect and improve their health. They know how to find, understand, and use health information and services to enhance their quality of life. This knowledge helps them communicate with doctors, fill out medical forms, select insurance plans, and understand the risks of procedures and treatment plans.

Factors such as education, language, culture, access to resources (such as technology), location, poverty, and age all impact health literacy. The distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges in a society relate to rates of illness and health outcomes. Training patients with low health literacy has even shown to improve their health.

Why is health literacy important?

Improving your healthy literacy enables you to advocate for yourself as you schedule appointments and speak to healthcare professionals. While it may be intimidating, your health is essential and building your health literacy skills is one step toward living the healthiest life possible.

Ready to improve your health literacy? While it helps to have basic math, reading, and health knowledge, these are some actions you can take before, during, and after your appointment can get you on the right track.

Before your appointment:

Before your appointments, read up on your concerns using reliable sources such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or American Cancer Society. It may help to take notes and keep a running list of questions that you’d like to ask at your next visit. Sometimes it can be nice to bring a buddy to your appointment; you can always invite a friend or family member to help you feel more comfortable. You can also seek out a translator or a multilingual provider to help you make the most out of your visit.

During your appointment:

It is important to clarify everything with your doctor to avoid any misunderstandings. Ask lots of questions and repeat the information back to the doctor in your own words. It may be helpful to ask for extra materials such as handouts, diagrams, and videos.

After your appointment:

Technology can be a useful tool when navigating the healthcare system. You can use technology to view your medical records, schedule more appointments, ask questions, and do extra research. Before deciding on a treatment plan, it is often helpful to speak to other experts. If this isn’t an option, you can also look at various reputable sources online to answer any questions you may still have.

Once you’ve done all this, repeat as needed. Remember these helpful tips each time you speak to your healthcare provider. Practice makes perfect! Asking questions and doing research is a skill that you need to build. The more you practice, the better your health literacy will become.

– Masin Kearney