Only 12% of Americans Are “Health Literate”

health literacyThe United States has an overall literacy rate of 99%, according to the CIA Factbook, but a health literacy rate of only 12% according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy.

In addition, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, roughly nine out of ten Americans are not “health literate.” Health literacy is a term that describes “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.”

So, according to the HHS, if you are proficient in health literacy, you can calculate cholesterol levels, measure medications, understand nutrition labels, choose between health plans, and compare prescription drug coverage. Health literacy is about your ability to find out what’s wrong with you, knowing where to go, and then knowing what to do with the information given to you.

While the wealth of providers in the United States (e.g. clinics, urgent cares, emergency departments, community health centers and retail clinics) gives Americans a myriad of options to choose from, it also contributes to the confusion many Americans may feel when making health care decisions. When you add jargon-heavy medical forms, complex medication regimens, and health plans to the mix, it’s easy to see why most Americans struggle to make the “appropriate health care decisions,” mentioned by the HHS.

This paradox of health care choice may contribute to low health literacy rates, as better health literacy often translates to better health. The HHS website states, “Low literacy has been linked to poor health outcomes such as higher rates of hospitalization and less frequent use of preventive services,” and the American Medical Association says that poor health literacy is “a stronger predictor of a person’s health than age, income, employment status, education level and race.”

iTriage is a mobile and web application developed by two ER physicians, Drs. Peter Hudson and Wayne Guerra, that improves healthcare literacy and enables patients to make better healthcare decisions. Its unique Symptom-to-Provider pathway helps patients answer two questions: “What could be wrong?” and “Where should I go for treatment?” “iTriage helps people better understand their symptoms and the medical conditions that may be causing them,” says Guerra. “The application then directs them to the appropriate facility or provider, whether that is an urgent care clinic, retail clinic, emergency department or physician.”

Do you think you’re health literate? If not, why? Tell us on our Facebook page.

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