Health Literacy


As a health educator, I am highly interested in teaching the patient about their health conditions and increase their awareness toward their health in order to enable them to make right decisions about their health. However, I was facing poor health literacy among the patients who I used to work with in the Saudi hospitals. Although most of my patients were educated, they were an able to understand the medical information. I was wondering why they were not able to understand physician’s directions, instructions on prescription drug bottles, medical education brochures, and consent forms. Then I realized that health literacy may not be related to years of education or the level of income. It is related to three factors, the way the health care provider conveys the message to the patient, the patient’s ability to receive and process the given information, and the message. In my opinion, the three factors are the responsible of the health care provider. In other words, the health care provider must improve his or her communication skills to communicate effectively with his or her patients, simplify the message as much as possible and encourage the patients to improve their health literacy to be involved actively in health related decisions. On the other hand, if the patients were passive and health illiterate, they would expose themselves to emergency room visits, hospitalizations and higher risk of death. I used to work in a diabetes health education clinic in a Saudi hospital and I was shocked by the very low health literacy level that was common among the patients. One of the patients visited the emergency room frequently due to worse glycemic control although he was having his insulin shots regularly according to what he was telling us at the hospital every time he visited the emergency room. Then when we asked him how he was taking his insulin, he said that he was drinking the insulin with the water and not injecting himself as prescribed! Another patient was taking the insulin in the wrong times which resulted in significant fluctuations in his glucose level. These cases indicate how poor health literacy affects the health significantly and highlight how important the health care provider role is in educating the patients who are facing complex information and treatment decisions. The patients must be mentored and guided by skillful health educators to be able to evaluate medical information for credibility and quality, analyze relative risks and benefits, calculate dosages, interpret test results and locate health information. According to the American Medical Association report, “Poor health literacy is a stronger predictor of a person’s health than age, income, employment status, education level, and race”. Therefore, health care providers have to pay more attention to the patients’ health literacy level to improve their health, involve them in the treatment plan and help them to make the right health decisions. Improving health literacy is a complex task; it requires continuous effort from the health care providers and the patients as well. The attached factsheet provide you with useful information about health literacy, and the short video shows what the Institute of healthcare advancement does to address health literacy.


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