While there are many health awareness months that we remember right off the bat, or see on people’s bumper stickers and in store front windows around town, there are also some that are lesser known, but just as important.
One example is Health Literacy Month, which is – you guessed it – October. What exactly is health literacy? It is often defined as the degree to which someone has the understanding of health information and services that they need to help them make appropriate health decisions. This is as simple as knowing which medications you take that could interact negatively with others, or could be as serious as understanding what you are signing up for when you consent to a serious surgical procedure.
According to the National Assessment of Literacy, nearly nine out of ten adults likely lack the skills needed to manage their health. They also found that 14 percent of adults (30 million people) have Below Basic health literacy. And if you think about it, at least some of these people are likely living with chronic diseases or conditions that they are having to self-manage, which can be extremely difficult without having a higher-level understanding.
Health literacy is also important for visits to the doctor where you are asked to fill out forms asking for your health/medical history, sign consent forms and agree to courses of treatment.
Ultimately, the responsibility for helping you understand is supposed to lie with the healthcare professionals treating you. However, I would highly encourage all of you to make sure you are asking questions at your medical appointments (even if it means writing them down ahead of time on a notepad, or bringing someone along to your appointments with you to lend an assist). Honor Health Literacy Month this year by making a conscious effort to get informed and to take the initiative to ask for clarification if you need it. You’re worth it.