How often have you read a newspaper article or blog post on how to be healthy, but been left more confused than when you started? Or sat in your doctor’s office to discuss a health issue and come away feeling bamboozled by long sentences and confusing words?
You’re not alone. Many of us feel the same, and things are made worse by conflicting headlines. Is a glass of red wine good for us or not? How much exercise is too much exercise for the joints to handle? Is it five a day when it comes to fruit and veg, or seven, or ten?
The ability to understand health messages and advice from our doctor is called health literacy. Having a good level of health literacy is crucial for our health and wellbeing. Why then, can it be so confusing knowing, understanding and doing what is right for our health?
Health Literacy Month to the Rescue!
Health Literacy Month was set up 1999 by Helen Osborne M.Ed. Frustrated by the lack of plain language used to communicate crucial health information, Helen decided to set up the organization to help medical professionals communicate to patients in a way the general public could understand.
Their slogan is “Finding the Right Words for Better Health” and we couldn’t love a campaign more.
It isn’t just those with limited comprehension skills or who speak English as a second language that struggle. Each one of us struggles if doctors speak to us using complex medical terminology. After all, we’re not all doctors and scientists!
The Dangers of Poor Health Literacy
Not understanding what our doctors have told us can mean that we act upon advice unknowingly in the wrong way, or we actively chose to just give up, skip appointments and carry on doing all the things that led us to see the doctor in the first place.
We might take our medication incorrectly, or misunderstand instructions, but healthy literacy isn’t just how well we understand doctor’s advice. It also includes how well we understand and read nutrition labels, what we should and shouldn’t be eating, how much alcohol to safely drink, how stressed we can allow ourselves to get, how much exercise we should do and whether or not we decide to smoke.
So this is where Health Literacy Month comes in. This October, for the entire month, there will be events (particularly at your local library) where you can learn how to improve your health literacy.
Tips on Improving your Health Literacy
We’re all in charge of our own health. Here’s how you can improve your understanding of medical advice:
- Communicate the What, Where, How and When of your symptoms clearly to your doctor. It helps to write down all the points you want to cover in your consultation.
- Don’t rush – your doctor wants to help you as much as you want to be helped.
- Take a pen with you and write down in note form what your doctor, nurse or pharmacist says.
- Repeat back what they say to make sure you fully understand.
- Speak up if you feel confused – there’s nothing your doctor hasn’t had to repeat to just about everybody else.
- Visit your local Health Literacy Month events – and enjoy them!