Health Literacy Importance

My initial impressions after watching the video by NASEM health and medicine division (2012) on health literacy were those of shock and alarm. Although I have always realized that some patients may have difficulty understanding the prescriptions of their physicians, it has never occurred to me that the problem grew to such a large scale and that it impacts so many people on a daily basis. Having seen those people and listened to their stories, I realized that being illiterate and not being able to take one’s medicine correctly is a far greater problem that I could have ever imagined. My feelings of surprise were associated with several issues. First of all, I was shocked that not all doctors explain to their patients how and when to take pills. Secondly, I was puzzled by the number of people who cannot read and, as a result, cannot decipher what to do about the prescribed medicine. Thirdly, it was disturbing that so many people prefer not to ask their physician for additional details in order to keep their illiteracy a secret and not feel ashamed upon admitting it.

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All of these factors made me feel so disturbed that I started doing some research on the topic. According to a report prepared by WHO (2013), health literacy is considered as the key determinant of health. High rates of literacy are advantageous for societies whereas limited literacy has an adverse effect on health. Moreover, limited health literacy may bolster the inequalities that already exist in societies (WHO, 2013). Thus, WHO finds health literacy to be an underestimated problem and urges the authorities to pay more attention to this issue. Heide et al. (2013) also emphasize the role of health literacy in acquiring the sufficient healthcare support. According to scholars, the development of health literacy may positively impact people’s health status.

The enhancement of literacy may lead to the reduction of health-related inequalities (Heide et al., 2013). Research by Schumacher et al. (2013) reveals yet another serious effect of patients’ illiteracy. According to these scholars, limited health literacy is an obstacle to understanding health data, and thus, it is a risk factor for overuse due to which individuals are frequently readmitted to emergency care departments (Schumacher et al., 2013). Therefore, improving health literacy may result in fewer hospital admissions and a better health condition. This issue is particularly relevant to senior citizens whose low cognitive abilities and poor health literacy not only cause severe outcomes on the part of psychical health but also may lead to the development of depression (Serper et al., 2014). Therefore, the problem raised in the video is sufficiently reflected in scholarly literature, and it is necessary to find relevant solutions to it.

In order to assist my patients with health literacy, I may recommend them using of eHealth applications. Interventions incorporating eHealth methods have proved to be successful in overcoming illiteracy (Jacobs, Lou, Ownby, & Caballero, 2014). Programs that are designed by specialists help patients to control their condition, measure and compare some vital signs, and regulate the use of pills. Another strategy that I find productive is evaluating patients’ literacy skills and making sure that they understand the prescription. If they do not, it is necessary to provide them with sufficient support and additional explanation. One more good idea is asking patients to repeat the prescription in order to evaluate their comprehension. Whatever strategy a practitioner chooses, it is crucial to reach the highest level of understanding and provide help for those patients who have low health literacy so that the cases revealed in the video would not repeat.


Heide, I., Wang, J., Droomers, M., Spreeuwenbeng, P., Rademakers, J., & Uiters, E. (2013). The relationship between health, education, and health literacy: Results from the Dutch adult literacy and life skills survey. Journal of Health Communication, 18(sup1), 172-184.

Jacobs, R. J., Lou, J. Q., Ownby, R. L., & Caballero, J. (2014). A systematic review of eHealth interventions to improve health literacy. Health Informatics Journal, 22(2), 81-98.

NASEM health and medicine division. (2012). Health literacy: A prescription to end confusion – Patients [Video file]. Web.

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Schumacher, J. R., Hall, A. G., Davis, T. C., Arnold, C. L., Bennett, R. D., Wolf, M. S., & Carden, D. L. (2013). Potentially preventable use of emergency services: The role of low health literacy. Medical Care, 51(8), 654-658.

Serper, M., Patzer, R. E., Curtis, L. M., Smith, S. G., O’Conor, R., Baker, D., & Wolf, M. S. (2014). Health literacy, cognitive ability, and functional health status among older adults. Health Services Research, 49(4), 1249-1267.

WHO. (2013). Health literacy: The solid facts. Web.

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