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Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion (2004)

Chapter: 7 Vision for a Health Literate America

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Suggested Citation:"7 Vision for a Health Literate America." Institute of Medicine. 2004. Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10883.
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7
A Vision for a Health-Literate America

My best advice to others with poor reading skills is to not presume but to ask questions. Poor readers need to take responsibility also. We need to learn how to ask questions better. I would recommend more training for us. Remember, we [adult learners] want to be part of the solution.

My best advice to health providers is to think of us as partners. Treat us like partners. Tell us that you need our help too. You might think about setting up training sessions to help staff know how to ask questions that get the best answers. Make sure compassion is part of the training and include us in the training. We can teach along with you. When talking with us, use pictures (those drawn by you are just as good as the fancy ones—even stick figures). Use plain language not medicalese.

Personal story graciously provided by Toni Cordell, Adult Learner and Literacy Advocate, as told to C.D. Meade, September 2003.

The evidence and judgment presented in this report indicate how important improving heath literacy is to improving the health of individuals and populations. This is why the Institute of Medicine identified improving health literacy as one of two cross-cutting issues needing attention in its recent Priority Areas for National Action in Quality Improvement (IOM, 2003), and why the Surgeon General recently stated that “health literacy can save lives, save money, and improve the health and

Suggested Citation:"7 Vision for a Health Literate America." Institute of Medicine. 2004. Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10883.
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well-being of millions of Americans … health literacy is the currency of success for everything I am doing as Surgeon General” (Carmona, 2003).

As the report also indicates, much more needs to be known about the causal pathways between education and health and the more specific role of literacy, as well as the discrete contribution of health literacy. As a result, we will then be in a position to understand which interventions and approaches are the most appropriate and effective. This Committee believes that a health-literate America is an achievable goal. We envisage a society in which people have the skills that they need to obtain, interpret, and use health information effectively, and within which a wide variety of health systems and institutions take responsibility for providing clear communication and adequate support to facilitate health-promoting actions. Specifically, we believe a health-literate America would be a society in which:

  • everyone has the opportunity to improve their health literacy.

  • everyone has the opportunity to use reliable, understandable information that could make a difference in their overall well-being, including everyday behaviors such as how they eat, whether they exercise, and whether they get checkups.

  • health and science content would be basic parts of K-12 curricula,

  • people are able to accurately assess the credibility of health information presented by health advocate, commercial, and new media sources.

  • there is monitoring and accountability for health literacy policies and practices.

  • public health alerts, vital to the health of the nation, are presented in everyday terms so that people can take needed action.

  • the cultural contexts of diverse peoples, including those from various cultural groups and non-English-speaking peoples, are integrated into all health information.

  • health practitioners communicate clearly during all interactions with their patients, using everyday vocabulary.

  • there is ample time for discussions between patients and healthcare providers.

  • patients feel free and comfortable to ask questions as part of the healing relationship.

  • rights and responsibilities in relation to health and health care are presented or written in clear, everyday terms so that people can take needed action.

  • informed consent documents used in health care are developed so that all people can give or withhold consent based on information they need and understand.

Suggested Citation:"7 Vision for a Health Literate America." Institute of Medicine. 2004. Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10883.
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While achieving this vision is a profound challenge, we believe that significant progress can and must be made over the coming years so that the potential of optimal health can benefit all individuals and populations in our society.

REFERENCES

Carmona RH. 2003. Health Literacy in America: The Role of Health Care Professionals. Prepared Remarks given at the American Medical Association House of Delegates Meeting. Saturday, June 14, 2003. [Online]. Available: http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/news/speeches/ama061403.htm [accessed: August 2003].


IOM (Institute of Medicine). 2003. Priority Areas for National Action: Transforming Healthcare Quality. Adams K, Corrigan JM, Editors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Suggested Citation:"7 Vision for a Health Literate America." Institute of Medicine. 2004. Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10883.
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Page 240
Suggested Citation:"7 Vision for a Health Literate America." Institute of Medicine. 2004. Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10883.
×
Page 241
Suggested Citation:"7 Vision for a Health Literate America." Institute of Medicine. 2004. Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10883.
×
Page 242
Next: Appendix A: Data Sources and Methods »
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To maintain their own health and the health of their families and communities, consumers rely heavily on the health information that is available to them. This information is at the core of the partnerships that patients and their families forge with today's complex modern health systems. This information may be provided in a variety of forms – ranging from a discussion between a patient and a health care provider to a health promotion advertisement, a consent form, or one of many other forms of health communication common in our society. Yet millions of Americans cannot understand or act upon this information. To address this problem, the field of health literacy brings together research and practice from diverse fields including education, health services, and social and cultural sciences, and the many organizations whose actions can improve or impede health literacy.

Health Literacy: Prescription to End Confusion examines the body of knowledge that applies to the field of health literacy, and recommends actions to promote a health literate society. By examining the extent of limited health literacy and the ways to improve it, we can improve the health of individuals and populations.

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