October is Health Literacy Month, but health advisors think about health literacy all year long.
Health literacy isn’t just about knowing which medical websites you can trust. It’s about knowing how to access and understand health information so that you can make effective healthcare decisions. Healthcare providers take health literacy seriously, because patients who are well-informed about health issues have better outcomes. For example, if someone is unaware that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe, they may delay their vaccination, putting their health at risk.
To be health literate, people need access to accurate health information, and it has to be presented in a way that they understand. Research shows that low health literacy is associated with poor self-care, inappropriate use of emergency services, higher rates of hospitalization, and increased healthcare costs.
In healthcare settings, the whole team plays a role in improving health literacy. A doctor may use a plastic model as a visual reference to help explain a health issue to a patient. A nurse may go over discharge instructions with a patient before they leave the hospital.
As a patient, you can contribute to your own health literacy by asking questions and requesting clarification. If you don’t understand what your provider is saying, ask for an explanation—your health depends on it.
3 Ways a Health Advisor Can Help with Health Literacy
- A health advisor knows your health history. Because a health advisor is someone you know and trust, they can provide doctors with detailed information about your health.
- A health advisor prioritizes patient education. While a doctor’s time may be very limited, a health advisor can answer your questions and explain medical terminology in plain English. For example, patients with chronic illnesses are often discharged with instructions for home care, but 36% of adults have only basic or below-basic health literacy skills. A health advisor offers support during care transitions, makes sure the patient understands the doctor’s instructions, and provides guidance on next steps.
- A health advisor sees the big picture. Health advisors work with your entire medical team, including family members, and provide a holistic perspective on your care. Health advisors can communicate directly with providers on your behalf. They understand and discuss complex healthcare issues, and make sure everyone on your care team has the information they need.
If you need help understanding your healthcare needs and accessing great care, reach out to an expert healthcare advisor.