The healthcare community generally has failed to acknowledge that low health literacy is a tremendous problem in the U.S. Stakeholders need to develop strategies to ensure that patients receive assistance in overcoming the barriers that limit their ability to function adequately in the healthcare environment.
Health illiteracy affects approximately 90 million Americans, at an annual cost of $73 billion, according to the American Medical Association. Estimates show that more than 50% of all Americans experience difficulties in accessing the healthcare system, as well as obtaining accurate diagnoses and appropriate treatment because they cannot understand or utilize the information they are provided.
According to the AMA, health illiteracy is the inability of patients to read, comprehend, and/or act appropriately on medical instructions. This includes such tasks as reading and comprehending prescription bottles, interpreting appointment slips, completing health insurance forms, following instructions for diagnostic tests, and understanding other essential health-related materials required to function successfully as a patient.
According to experts, up to 48% of English-speaking patients do not have adequate functional health literacy. The consequences of inadequate literacy include poorer health status, lack of knowledge about medical care and medical conditions, decreased comprehension of information, lack of understanding and use of preventive services, poorer compliance rates, increased hospitalizations…
The AMA’s Criteria
A Study Guide to Improving Patient Education