You go to the doctor’s office. You sign in, walk through the door to the examination area and step on the scale (sans shoes, of course). You then get your height checked, and pray you haven’t shrunk. You enter your room, sit down, get your blood pressure taken, and hear the results. The doctor comes in, and starts asking questions about your health in a way that seems unnecessarily refined. For instance, “When was the last time you had a bowel movement?” You mean, when was the last time I pooped? But it gets worse. The doctor continues to ask questions and make recommendations using terms that are straight out of his medical textbook, and before you know it, he leaves the room with you scratching your head.
Health literacy is our ability to access, process, and understand health information which we can then confidently use to make educated health decisions. And this fundamental right (yes, being able to OWN our HEALTH is our RIGHT!) is impacted by a lot of different personal and societal variablesU.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Quick Guide to Health Literacy: Fact Sheet. Accessed from http://health.gov/communication/literacy/quickguide/factsbasic.htm on August 24, 2015.:
- Communication skills (of both patients and healthcare givers)
- Knowledge of health topics
- Culture and heritage
- Demands (financial, social, political, etc.) of the healthcare and public health systems
- Demands of the unique situation/context
The more health literate you are, typically, the better you canU.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Quick Guide to Health Literacy: Fact Sheet. Accessed from http://health.gov/communication/literacy/quickguide/factsbasic.htm on August 24, 2015.:
- Navigate the healthcare system, fill out complex forms and easily locate providers and services
- Verbalize personal information, such as health history, with providers
- Access and engage in self-care and chronic-disease management
- Understand concepts like probability/risk or benefit/harm
Why should I care?
Today, you are your best, most reliable advocate for your health and wellness. Sure, you get treated by our professional healthcare team, but they just don’t have access to the personal information you have on a daily basis. So, when you do have time with the doc, which is typically 10 minutes, you need to demand that you get the medical information you need in an easy-to-understand manner.
What can I do?
Ask For Clarification
The next time you’re at the doctor’s office, and feel like you need a medical encyclopedia to understand what’s being said, ask to pause. Obviously, no need to literally put your hand up. (Remember “talk to the hand, cuz’ the face ain’t listening!?” You’re welcome.), but just say politely, “I’m having a hard time understanding what you mean, and I want to be clear on your recommendations. Can you please clarify in laymen’s terms?
Know your Learning Style
Typically, people tend to categorize themselves as preferring one of three learning styles: audio, visual or kinesthetic. Know how you prefer to learn, and ask for materials and other supporting resources that are going to benefit you the most.
|Type of Learner||Traits||Preferred materials/ supporting resources|
|Audio||Retains information through hearing and speaking Often prefers to be told how to do things and then summarizes the main points out loud to help with memorization||Live presentations Audio/e-books Podcasts CDs/cassette tapes (do these even still exist?)|
|Visual||Turn notes into pictures, charts, or maps Avoid distractions (windows, doorways, etc.) Learn the big picture first and then focus on the details||Videos Movies Infographics Pictures|
|Kinesthetic||Likes to use the hands-on approach to learn new material Would rather demonstrate how to do something rather than verbally explain it Usually prefers group work more than others||Hands-on workshops Interactive classes Group sessions Physical symbols for complex, unseen processes or parts|
So the next time you’re about to walk out of your doctor’s office with an outdated handout on “heart-healthy foods” from 1978, ask for additional resources that benefit your learning style.
Just talk about it.
In social situations, people are so easeful when talking about a variety of different topics. Their kids. The weather. Frustrating work policies. Upcoming travel plans. However, health isn’t one that often is discussed over a cocktail or a soccer field sideline. But you know what? It should be. Be more open to getting in touch with your wellness, routinely checking in with it, and sharing it with others.
Get in touch. You would always prioritize your child’s health, but why is it easy to overlook your own? No time, right? Make time. On your calendar, block off (just as you would a doctor’s appointment) 30-60 minutes to use to get in touch with your wellness. Take a deep breath and connect with:
- How your body feels
- How you feel about your body
- Ways you want to improve your wellness
Make appointments with:
- With your primary health caregiver
- Your alternative practitioners (acupuncturist, massage therapists, therapists, etc.)
- Schedule classes
Routinely check in. Now that you’ve gotten in touch with your health, take the next step and make it a routine. Connecting to our wellness once is awesome; however, routinely checking in with it on an ongoing basis is even better. For instance, set a monthly reminder to check in. Write it on your Anne Geddes’ wall calendar, or plug it into your Outlook. Whichever works for you. Set a reoccurring date with yourself and stick to it.
Share it. Once you’ve done all the legwork, now it’s time to open up a dialogue that can stoke a communal experience of health literacy.
- Meet a friend. I know we are all busy, but schedule a monthly chat with a friend and discuss your health. Create an agenda so you don’t get derailed and end up chatting about how you’re pissed off at your boss. Or, at least save that for the end.
- Lead a meet-up group. Like book clubs? Start one that includes only books, articles or videos that improve your group’s health literacy.
- Get social. Tweeting is for the birds? Totally get it. Just copy and paste this article’s link into your favorite social media platform and send out to the world as you enjoy that last sip.
Improving health literacy for all is a huge initiative that demands our attention. Do your part, and ask other to do the same. Together, we can really make a huge impact on how we access and process health information so we can all make confident, educated decisions during our pursuit for optimum wellness.
How are you going to promote health literacy in your community and become a better advocate for your personal well-being?