Understanding information from your healthcare provider is incredibly important for your health. If you don’t understand documents or contracts, diagnoses or prescriptions, it can be dangerous. That’s why health literacy is such a hot topic, spurring a National Action Plan for providers in 2010. According to research from the U.S. Department of Education, only 12 percent of English-speaking adults in the United States have proficient health literacy skills. Even those who are otherwise well-educated can struggle to understand their personal health information. The month of October is Health Literacy Month, which brings awareness to this issue and helps provide solutions.
What exactly is health literacy, you might ask? Personal health literacy is when individuals are able to find, understand, and use information and services for health-related decisions for themselves and others. Healthcare providers like Community Health Partners make a concerted effort to increase health literacy in their patients, training staff on best practices for communicating with people from all backgrounds and literacy levels. But even if your provider isn’t going above and beyond to make things clear, your understanding is still important.
As a patient, you can advocate for your own health literacy and help those in your family and your community get the health information they need. Here’s how.
When at an appointment with a healthcare provider, ask plenty of questions to make sure you get the answers you need. Don’t leave your appointment with your questions unanswered. You should never feel embarrassed to ask clarifying questions about your healthcare.
Bring a pen and paper with you to your appointments and record notes. Writing things down can help with comprehension, and it’ll help you remember what your provider said later on. It’s also a great way to write down questions while your provider is speaking so you can remember to ask them if they don’t get answered during your provider’s explanation.
At the end of your appointment, explain to your provider in your own words what you learned and what your next steps are, and ask them to confirm the accuracy of what you said. This helps make sure there is no miscommunication between you and your provider.
Before heading to your healthcare appointment, ask someone you trust to accompany you. A friend or family member can help explain things to you or recall information shared. Just be aware that confidential information may be shared with you during your appointment, so you should be comfortable with your friend or family member being present.
If you’re confused about something after an appointment, call or message your provider online before taking any action. Do not take any medication if you’re confused about how much to take or when. Though it may feel like an inconvenience, you deserve to understand your diagnosis, options, and treatment. Following up is worth it.
You have a right to an interpreter at no cost to you. Even if you speak some English, tell your provider’s office what language is most understandable to you when you make an appointment. Request any written information in your preferred language as well.
Information given during an appointment can be a lot to take in all at once. Ask your doctor for printed information to take home with you so that you can review it later when you have more time and space to do so.
If you have people in your life who struggle to understand health information, you can support them by:
Attending appointments with them
Helping with translation if you speak both English and their preferred language
Asking clarifying questions on their behalf
Taking notes for them
Don’t understand something that’s written in your doctor’s notes? Look up the term on the internet to find out what it means. Make sure you’re using credible sources like the Meriam Webster-Medical Dictionary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health or the Mayo Clinic. Ultimately, the best solution is to clarify with your healthcare provider, but online sources like these can help in a pinch.
Remember – providers want you to understand all information and can make informed decisions about your health. So, don’t hesitate to advocate for your own understanding.
If you’re looking for a healthcare provider in southwest Montana that prioritizes patient understanding, have a look at Community Health Partners. We’re always working to break down barriers to accessing health care and getting the answers you need.