Bettering Healthcare Outcomes Through Improving Health Literacy
Date Posted:9 June 2016
One of the key roles of any medical professional is educating. As a class of people with privileged information, their ability to succinctly and accurately explain a condition in an accessible way is crucial.
Unfortunately, many people may struggle to understand instructions or to know when to visit a doctor, or which doctor to speak to. A person’s (in)ability to understand medical information and put it to use is referred to as their health literacy.
As many as 59 per cent of Australians have below adequate health literacy levels, affecting their ability to access proper care. This means that almost three out of five people who walk into a doctor’s office will need additional explanation as to how their condition impacts their overall health and how and why their treatment will affect them. Addressing this is a priority for the medical community.
The impacts of low health literacy
Low levels of health literacy can affect healthcare outcomes by leaving patients unsure of where to go to address a problem, or make it difficult for some patients to optimally follow a treatment plan.
Groups that traditionally suffer from disproportionately low levels of health literacy such as the elderly, ethnic minorities, recent immigrants and people with a low level of general literacy have an increased risk of hospitalisation with each hospital stay being longer. Additionally, these same groups are more likely to make mistakes with their treatment and are less likely overall to follow a treatment plan.
This is compounded by the fact that there is significant room for government agencies, private drug companies and medical institutions to make their literature easier for the layperson to understand. A New Zealand readability analysis of information leaflets revealed that the average level of reading proficiency needed to understand them was equal to that required for comprehension of a newspaper editorial, and greater than that of a popular magazine article.
The need for comprehensive reform
Increased health literacy seems to correlate with educational attainment, with roughly 75 per cent of people with a Bachelor’s degree or greater having adequate or above-adequate levels of literacy. This figure drops to 50 per cent where the highest level of attainment was a Year 12, and 16 per cent for Year 10 and below.
Earlier intervention into people’s lives will be required if health literacy levels are to be raised. Health education must begin at an earlier level of schooling, and be coupled with creating an environment that encourages and rewards the making of healthy decisions, giving students the academic knowledge to make a choice and then the opportunity to put it into practice.
For more information on acquiring accessible equipment and resources for your school’s health curriculum, speak to Mentone Educational today.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2009). Australian Social Trends, June 2009 (cat. no. 4102.0). Retrieved from http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features20June+2009
 Davis, T. C., Wolf, M. S., Bass, P. F., Thompson, J. A., Tilson, H. H., Neuberger, M., & Parker, R. M. (2006). Literacy and misunderstanding prescription drug labels. Annals of Internal Medicine, 145(12), 887-894.
 Murphy, J., Gamble, G., & Sharpe, N. (1994). Readability of subject information leaflets for medical research. The New Zealand Medical Journal,107(991), 509-510.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australian Social Trends, June 2009
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