According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention health literacy is defined as a combination of 4 factors: being able to “obtain, communicate, process and understand health information and services” and make decisions accordingly (CDC). The major American multinational pharmaceutical and biotechnology corporation Pfizer states that 36% of Americans have some minor to basic understanding of appointment slips and brochures, and only 12% of Americans feel confident reading prescription drug labels, informed consent documents and actively managing their health (Pfizer). These numbers are alarming as health literacy becomes a critical skill especially during COVID-pandemic and telehealth time.
Certain group categories are particularly falling out of a loop like immigrants and seniors who experience struggles with accessing health services remotely. Without health literacy, Americans cannot manage their health properly, are not able to manage the use of medication due to lacking understanding of health information, don’t know how to describe symptoms and where to find help. These factors put considerable pressure on the healthcare system which is already struggling with nurse shortages and layoffs, hence empowering Americans with this skill is critical, especially in the case of a vulnerable population.
Why Does This Problem Occur?
Health literacy issues can come about for a number of reasons. The information provided by healthcare professionals is often difficult and confusing due to complex medical terms, so people without medical backgrounds start to experience problems understanding the value and risks of different medications and procedures. Apart from the lack of familiarity with medical terms, people aren’t quite as familiar with their bodies as they may think.
As medical professionals explain conditions to their patients, they throw in statistics and numerous risks that become overwhelming for your average person to comprehend. A diagnosis of a condition also often leaves people scared and confused. Spiraling, a person may attempt to do their research and find themselves further lost and uncertain about what steps to take next regarding their health.
How Can We Improve Health Literacy?
Communication between patients and their caregivers is really important. The extra care can take extra time, however, it can help to avoid confusion and improve health results. Using simple words or providing explanations of complicated medical terms can prove to be beneficial. It’s also important the caregiver take time to allow the patient to process the newfound information as well as allow them to ask questions. Caregivers can also ask questions themselves to ensure that the patient is understanding the information being delivered to them. Speaking slowly with patients and providing more visual data instead of wordy, lengthy instructions can help patients to better comprehend the information provided. The “Show Back” teaching approach can help healthcare providers to check the understanding of the information by patients. The idea behind “Show Back” is to ask the patient to execute a specific action to demonstrate correct use. Organizing educational sessions with the patients and providing extra information on their conditions through different health apps, telehealth platforms, and in the paper could facilitate the process as well. More about the benefits of telehealth platforms as a solution to health illiteracy is provided below.
What role does telehealth play in improving health literacy?
Telehealth could be one of the crucial tools in improving health literacy.
Through the combined use of RPM systems and Telehealth, patients can better adhere to their care plans. Through tools like reminders, reporting systems for symptoms, and scheduled vitals readings. Telehealth can help the patient manage, regulate, and better understand their conditions. These reporting tools can also help improve patient-provider communication as reports can be directly shared from devices. Telehealth allows patients to have their needs met from wherever they are.
Telehealth helps patients understand their conditions, allowing them to make informed decisions in managing their conditions. By tracking their lives, patients understand the trends in their symptoms. When something isn’t in the norm, they’ll be able to see that and flag it to their caregivers.
Navigating the healthcare system is difficult and at times confusing. Understanding barriers can cause delays in receiving treatment. With the right communication tools, patients can easily contact care providers and keep them proactive in their condition management.
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