October is Health Literacy Month. “health literacy” refers to access to knowledge related to personal health. Health literacy is often separated into two access points: individual and organizational. Both types of health literacy empower individuals to make educated and informed decisions about their care and overall health.
Health-literate individuals steer their health journey. Knowledge is power, and those who know how to research their care options, find doctors for a second opinion and read literature that allows them to explore and understand treatment protocols have a greater advantage as they navigate the healthcare system in the U.S.
What is Health Literacy? Learn the Two Types
Individual health literacy refers to an individual’s access to healthcare information and resources. Organizational health literacy refers to access to doctors, nurses, and medical professionals who thoroughly educate their patients about their health and their treatment or care options.
The Importance of Health Literacy
Suppose an individual has the knowledge and the resources to access medical studies and details about treatment options and also has health insurance to cover top-tier doctors. In that case, they can navigate their journey and use their resources to find the answers to critical care questions and concerns. Conversely, those without health and wellness resources and individuals who lack insurance to cover quality care often do not have the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their health or the health of a loved one.
Health Equity Depends on Health Literacy
Health literacy directly impacts health equity, which refers to the idea that all individuals should have the same access to quality healthcare. Statistics show clear disparities in healthcare access and coverage exist for Black patients. Kaiser Family Foundation states, “Black adults are also more likely than White adults to report being treated unfairly because of their race/ethnicity while seeking care for themselves or family members.”
Crucially, access to quality healthcare and health coverage leads many Black adults to skip preventative care visits to their doctors or to visit the doctor when they are ill. KFF noted that 14 percent of non-elderly Black adults skipped doctor visits because the cost was too high.
One aspect of health literacy that is often overlooked is the ability to find resources to help cover medical costs. Many hospitals offer financial assistance to families and individuals meeting certain income guidelines. Social workers are also a valuable and important resource at hospitals to help patients navigate treatment options, find help with paying bills, or even find a ride for treatments. Many social workers work with nonprofit organizations that offer support groups or other types of emotional or financial support.
For Black adults who struggle to pay for medical costs or even an office visit, knowing where and how to find help can be life-changing.
How to Improve Health Literacy
Without access to quality healthcare or educational resources related to health and wellness, how can an individual improve their health literacy? Every individual has the right to lead their health journey, ask questions about their treatment and care options, and learn how to improve their overall personal health.
If you don’t feel like you have the knowledge or answers you need, use these tips when seeking care or speaking to a doctor:
Ask doctors to simplify the language. Medical jargon is a barrier to health literacy.
Request pamphlets and educational materials. Most doctors should always provide this.
It’s ok to ask to speak with a nurse to discuss questions if a doctor’s explanation is confusing.
Hospital social workers are there to provide resources. They have access to nonprofit organizations and hospital financial assistance programs.
Many hospitals have resource centers that offer books and other materials about medical conditions and other health topics. These centers are always free to use.
Any doctor who disrespects you or doesn’t take your concerns seriously is NOT the doctor for you. If you feel ignored or silenced, or if your concerns are not taken seriously, do NOT ever silence the concerns in your head. Instead, ask for a recommendation for a second opinion.
The Cancerversity Community is Here to Help
Use the Cancerversity community as an empowerment, education, and support resource. We are here for you. Reach out to us, post in the forums, and know you are not alone on any health journey. Together, we are strong.