Chapter 12: Improving Your Own Health Literacy: One Step At A Time
Medicine, as both a science and art, often requires choices and there are no "right" answers - you need to make your own decisions - after all, its your life. While you obviously have a vital interest in treatment decisions and outcomes, unfortunately you lack the medical knowledge and skill to be able to decide alone.
This is where the concept of health literacy comes in, so you and your doctor can function as a team.
Does all this talk about health literacy sound too abstract? Then lets make it personal! You are literate, but are you health literate? Do you know the difference between LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol? Can you make sense of your hospital bill? Do you know which health insurance policy offers you the best deal? Can you decipher your doctors medical gobbledygook? Do you know how to get a second opinion? Does your doctor respect you? Are you empowered enough to blog about your illness? Have you ever "tweeted" on a healthcare issue?
Health is an invaluable asset and you are given only one body - it is your duty to take the best care of it possible. Although having an expert doctor by your side is very helpful, you cannot outsource this responsibility to someone else. Your doctor cannot solve all your healthcare problems! Just as financial literacy can help you to become wealthy, health literacy can help you to stay healthy. Remember, all the wealth in the world means nothing if you are not healthy. Healthcare today is complicated and the health care system can be confusing but health literacy can help you to deal with it effectively. If you have low health literacy, you do not have to panic, because it is a condition that is easily treatable and beatable. Treating low health literacy can improve your ability to get the best medical care.
To improve your own health literacy:
- Speak up and ask questions. Then, make sure you get and understand the answers. If you dont understand, ask the doctor or nurse for more information.
- Ask your doctor to speak slower and to use simple words that avoid confusing medical jargon.
- If photos or illustrations help you understand medical details or how your body works, ask for visual aids.
- Repeat information back to your doctor or nurse. After he gives you directions, repeat those instructions in your own words. Simply say, "Let me see if I understand this." This gives you a chance to clarify information.
- Bring all your medicines to your next doctors visit. Ask your doctor to go over all of your drugs and supplements, including vitamins and herbal medicines.
- Request someone to accompany you. This might be especially true when you expect to receive important information.
- Let the doctors office know you need an interpreter if you dont speak or understand English very well.
Be sure you receive written, detailed instructions for all prescriptions and all pertinent information discussed during medical visits. Ask for a copy of all lab and test results and your doctors dictated notes, so you can review the information at home at your own pace.
Learn to be curious and read a lot - this is the best way of sharpening your literacy skills. The Internet can be a great source of health and medical information if you use it wisely.
If your need help in making sense of the medicalese in your lab reports or scan results, please use the free Medical Report Jargon Buster (@http://medexplain.in/). You simply have to upload your medical reports to the website, and the jargon buster will provide a simple explanation of any medical term within the report.
Take your time. Online research can take longer than you would expect. If you search too quickly, you can end up with incorrect information. The information may be confusing initially, but it will become clearer over time as you polish your skills.
Use reliable websites. These are often ones that end in ".gov" for government, ".org" for non-profit organisations, and ".edu" for medical schools and colleges. If you use a ".com" website, go to the "about" section to see if the sponsor has a financial stake in the information.
Rely on many sources. Check several trusted websites to see if the information is trustworthy. The Internet is not your doctor: Talk to your doctor about any information you find online. If he or she doesnt want to talk about what youve learned, go search for a new doctor.
Informing yourself is a worthwhile investment, and you do not have to become a hypochondriac to become well informed. Dont underestimate your abilities - there are lots of valuable resources available. Bookmark reliable sites, and invest in a medical dictionary and encyclopaedia so you can decipher unfamiliar terms and put the information in the right context. Discuss what you find with knowledgeable friends - they can help you resolve your doubts. Finally, try to teach someone else - this is the best way of learning.
Being health literate offers many benefits:
- It promotes self-care, so you can do as much for yourself as possible.
- It helps you to understand evidence-based guidelines, so that you can ask for the right medical treatment -no more and no less.
- It arms you with "Veto Power", so you can say "No" to medical care you dont need, thus preventing over testing and unnecessary surgery.
- It prevents you from being exploited by quacks.
When you fall ill, you hope to get the best medical care from your doctor. In a perfect world youd have the perfect doctor who would have plenty of time, infinite wisdom, charge you a reasonable fee, be totally honest yet compassionate, have a conveniently located clinic and understand your emotional as well as medical problems - in short, one who treats you as a VIP! Since its unlikely you are going to find this doctor, you must take active charge of your own medical care.
Medicine, as both a science and art, often requires choices and there are no "right" answers - you need to make your own decisions - after all, its your life. While you obviously have a vital interest in treatment decisions and outcomes, unfortunately you lack the medical knowledge and skill to be able to decide alone. This is where the concept of health literacy comes in, so you and your doctor can function as a team.
When you are a patient, you need to wear many hats, and health literacy will enable you to be all of the following:
Medical information researcher: The more knowledgeable you are about your problem and its treatment, the better are your chances of getting the right treatment. Educate yourself - you need to become an informed participant in your medical care in order to ask the right questions and to participate in making decisions about your treatment.
Medical team manager: You will have to find, evaluate, select, hire -and sometimes fire - members of your medical team. As an enlightened patient, you need to remember that you are the one in charge of your body.