Health Illiteracy in America

Low health literacy linked to poor health

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Many older Americans have low health literacy, or the ability to understand health information.

A new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found that over 75 million English-speaking adults in the United States found it diffecult  to understand and use basic health information.

For example, the report shows those with low health literacy are less likely to get flu shots and to understand medical labels on bottles.

People with low health literacy are also more likely to use medications incorrectly. Women with low health literacy are less likely to get mammograms.

"Doctors need to better explain the "what, why, when and how" of therapy."

According to Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D., Director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, making sure that people understand health care information is a marker of a high-quality healthcare system.

While the nation is debating how to improve our healthcare system, Clancy says that health literacy is one major issue to address.

In 2010, the U.S. HHS started the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy. The goal is to make patient handouts, medical forms, health websites, and recommendations to the public easier to understand by removing jargon-filled language, dense writing, and complex explanations.

The plan also promotes better communication between patients and their health care providers.

The hope of the plan is to improve people's understanding of health-related information so that they can make more informed and healthy decisions.  This low understanding has been linked to poor health and a higher risk of death.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 5, 2011
Last Updated:
April 6, 2011