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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Low health literacy can often lead to harmful and even deadly mistakes

Nearly half of all American adults have difficulty understanding and using health information provided to them by doctors, specialists, pharmacists and insurance companies. Low health literacy can often lead to harmful and even deadly mistakes.

The term “health literacy” refers to a patient’s ability to obtain, process and understand health care communications ranging from test results to prescription instructions. The complex text that is common in health information can often be very difficult to understand.

Seniors who have a working understanding of health information have the ability to understand the writing on prescription bottles and appointment slips, and understand information provided to them by their medical team.

In contrast, patients with low functional health literacy often:

o Do not understand the written or oral information provided to them by a doctor, nurse, pharmacist or insurer
o Can not navigate the health system in order to obtain necessary services
o Acquire higher health care costs
o Receive health care services through publicly financed programs

According to the National Academy on an Aging Society low health literacy impacts both the cost of health care as well as the physical costs for seniors in our community. Billions of dollars are spent every year for unnecessary doctor visits and hospital stays because of low health literacy among seniors.

According to a 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy conducted by the Institute of Education Sciences, adults age 65 and older had lower average health literacy scores than adults in younger age groups and are considered a very vulnerable population.

There are many ways for families to help. If you know of a senior or have a loved one dealing with medical issues, offer to attend doctors’ appointments with them. Be sure that they understand their treatment plan and encourage them to keep notes at their appointments and to log questions for the next appointment.

You can also help them understand their prescriptions and create an easy system that ensures they take medication at the right times. These few steps will go a long way to helping the seniors you know and love stay safe from the risks of confusion.
This article was taken from articles written by Comfort Keepers staff. To see more, click HERE.

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