How ‘Health Literate’ Are You? How Health Literacy Impacts Your Life

As you walk out of the doctor’s office you have probably heard a lot of information.

When do you need a follow-up appointment? How many times a day do you need to take your medicine? What happens if you accidentally take more than the suggested amount?

Reading the medication bottle or printed information from your doctor isn’t the problem, but it is important that you understand these instructions.

Clear communication in health care is a duty that lies on both you and your doctor.

What Is Health Literacy?

From what you eat for breakfast to what you take for a headache, you make choices about your health each day.

Health literacy describes how a person can read and understand health information so they can make the right decisions.

For instance, patients with chronic illnesses who require regular care need to learn self-management skills, such as following a strict diet. Beyond routine check-ups and prescriptions, health literacy includes math skills, such as comparing medical insurance costs and understanding food nutrition labels.

How to Become Health Literate

Follow these tips to help increase your health literacy and take control of your own health.

Come Prepared to Your Appointment

Write a list of questions about the type of care you will receive. For example, ask for an explanation of your illness or self-care for a chronic illness.

Ask Questions

If you don’t ask questions, your nurse or doctor will think you understand the information given. Even if it seems like an unimportant question, it’s better to ask while you’re still in the office rather than wondering about it at home.

Bring a Family Member

Having another person there – especially at an appointment where you will hear news of a diagnosis – brings comfort. Your loved one may also think of other questions to ask during your visit.

Review Prescriptions When You’re at Your Doctor’s Office

While you’re still in the doctor’s office make sure you understand your doctor’s instructions about the medication you will take.

Understand Follow-Up Instructions

Ask your doctor or nurse when you need to make a follow-up appointment. Also, if you are being discharged from the hospital make sure you understand any instructions given.

Collect Contact Information

In case you have a question about your care, make sure you have your doctor’s phone number in a handy place at home.

RELATED: 4 Ways to Get the Most Out of Doctor Visits

Health Literacy and Patient Experience at UPMC

At UPMC, the Patient Experience department works to improve health literacy and meet the health education needs of patients all over the world. From printing handouts in multiple languages to creating the UPMC Health Library, improving health education is always a top priority.

The UPMC Health Library includes videos and images to show skills, such as giving an insulin shot. This is one way to improve better understanding. Other videos feature UPMC experts who discuss many topics, from what to expect during cancer treatment to golf safety tips.

You can also find classes at many UPMC locations throughout the greater Pittsburgh area on health topics like:

  • Exercise
  • Parenting
  • Heart Health

Challenges in Health Literacy

Despite strides made to improve health education among patients, we still have difficulties.

One challenge facing health care knowledge is the busyness of our day-to-day lives. Daily schedules or unexpected events often take priority over personal care.

Doctors and nurses count on patients to:

  • Make appointments
  • Ask questions during regular check-ups
  • Read any health information you receive

Both patients and their health care providers have a responsibility to take steps to increase health literacy. Take the first step to increase your health literacy today. Visit UPMC’s Health Library or connect with UPMC experts to discuss your health needs.