When it comes to our health, we are often faced with a bunch of information, numbers, and big words. It’s no wonder that sometimes it can feel overwhelming when you hear things like this:
- “Take this medication once daily by mouth on a full stomach with plenty of water.”
- “Do you have a family history of hypertension?”
- “Your insurance policy will cover up to 50% of the procedure cost.”
Our ability to understand all of this information is called health literacy, and nearly 9 out of 10 adults (over 90 million Americans) struggle with health literacy. This is a problem because people with low health literacy may not know when or how to get the care they need when they are sick.
Just because someone can read does not mean they are health literate. To make the best decisions about our health and health care, we must be able to find, process, and understand health information. This includes the ability to read and understand medicine bottles, appointment slips, and forms that your doctor might give you to fill out. It also includes being able to understand nutrition labels in the grocery store or finding reliable health information online.
For example, the next time you grab a box of cereal, turn it over and ask yourself if you could calculate how many calories are in the serving you’re eating. Do you know how much one serving is? How many servings are you eating?
Next, pull out your insurance card from your wallet. Do you know how much you would have to pay out of pocket if you or a family member needed to go to the hospital right now? Knowing and understanding this information is all part of health literacy!
So what can you do? The National Patient Safety Foundation says it’s as easy as 1-2-3! Every time you talk to a doctor, dentist, nurse, nutritionist, pharmacist or other healthcare worker, ask these three questions:
- What is my main problem?
- What do I need to do?
- Why is it important for me to do this?
Ask questions until you understand. You can even bring a friend or family member with you, if that helps. Write down your questions before and during your appointments and keep notes. Even if you’re not in a healthcare setting, don’t be afraid to find someone who you can ask!
At Swedish, we want you to be our partners in your healthcare and comfortable to speak up. Our goal is to provide you with the best healthcare possible and ensuring that we are clearly communicating with one another is one of the greatest ways we can do this. Visit our Patient and Visitor Information page to help you prepare for your next visit to Swedish and increase your health literacy.
Do you have more questions? Contact the Community Health Education Department by calling (206)386-2502, or post them in the comments below.