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From Health Literacy to Empowerment

This Health Literacy Month, we’re exploring the role of health literacy in empowering people to play an active role in their healthcare.

Let’s start with the basics. By definition, health literacy is the ability of a person to obtain, process, and understand health information and services that help them make decisions about their healthcare. In action, health literacy skills provide you the knowledge and confidence necessary to actively engage with both verbal and written healthcare communications.

Health literacy is something that impacts everyone because each of us, at some point during our lives, will be a patient and a caregiver in some capacity. Yet, a study shows that nine out of ten adults may lack the skills required to play an active, informed role in their own healthcare. Despite this concerning figure, the good news is that health literacy skills are something that can—and should—grow and develop over time. The beauty of health literacy is that it doesn’t require you to have all of the answers about your health or understand complex medical jargon. That said, what you do need is to arm yourself with tactics that you feel empowered to put into action so that you can more effectively engage in productive, meaningful healthcare conversations. 

Here are three tips to help you improve your health literacy and begin heading down the road of becoming an empowered patient or caregiver: 

  1. Ask questions. You have the right to ask questions to your healthcare providers (HCPs) if you are unclear or want more information during, or even, after a conversation. It’s up to you to be your own advocate and find your voice!
  2. Request visuals. Health literacy isn’t limited to verbal communications. Request your HCP to provide visuals, such as pictures or diagrams, to aid in conversation.
  3. Repeat what you’ve heard. Don’t be afraid to repeat what you heard using your own words. This approach is one of the best ways to ensure your interpretation of health information is accurate.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to improve your own health literacy, but remember it’s a two-way street—it’s the responsibility of both the patient and HCP to practice health literacy skills. Take shared decision making for example: it’s just as crucial for HCPs to have the ability to understand the goals and values being conveyed by a patient so that they can make appropriate treatment recommendations, as it is for the patient to understand their treatment options.

When it comes to health literacy, like most things, practice makes perfect! So, next time you’re speaking with your doctor, use the tips above as a source of empowerment to play an active role in your healthcare. 

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