How’s your Health Literacy?


Women are very often the back bone of our families and our communities when it comes to health and wellbeing. Every day we ensure that our husbands, wives, partners, children, and sometimes even our parents take care of their physical, mental, and oral health – making appointments and taking family to medical appointments, making sure everyone is covered by some kind of health insurance, and pushing and sometimes shoving folks to do what’s best for them. But we are only as good as our knowledge about health, health care, and our ability to navigate the very complex and layered health care systems. What we know we share. The more we know the more we can share to support our families, friends, and our communities. It all rests on your level of personal health literacy.


Over the last year or so we’ve all had to learn the meaning of new terms like, Coronavirus, monoclonal antibodies, emergency use authorization, and learn short hand abbreviations for research and medical terms like SARS-CoV-2, mAb, EUA, and mRNA, but the totality of your personal health literacy encompasses much more than just understanding the meaning of terms related the latest pandemic.


So just what is health literacy and how do you measure it?


Very formally, health literacy is how well people can find, understand, and use information to make appropriate health decisions, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Often we will need to know the difference between diastolic and systolic blood pressure? What is A1c and what is a good A1c number? How do you read and interpret a food label to know if consumption will have an impact on a chronic condition? Let’s provide a little more meaning to why your personal health literacy is so important.


Is it Evidence-Based?

With so many ways to find and receive information, Facebook, Instagram, via Google search, unsolicited emails, chat rooms, Tik-Tok… it is important to learn and know where to find credible health information and if information that you are reading, sharing, and acting on is evidence-based, unbiased, and safe. Home remedies and grandma’s tonics are not always the best even though they may have gotten us through tough times and so called “holistic” treatments sold by online charlatans often do nothing, but empty your wallet. Regardless its recent stumbles, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) remains one of the best locations for you to research and find reliable, evidence-based, public health and wellness information.


Weighing Your Treatment Options

Your health literacy might allow you to knowledgeably weigh treatment options for your health and wellbeing giving consideration to the quality of life that you want to live. Say you given the option to manage your health condition rapidly with the use of a prescribed drug therapy. This drug is known to have side effects of weight gain, periodic headaches, lower your interest in sex, and a rash on your torso that may lead to the need to use other medications. You are also advised of an alternative treatment of a prescribed diet, increased physical activity, and daily monitoring of your condition over an extended period of time compared to the drug therapy. Which would you choose? Which allows you to experience the quality of life that you want at this stage in your life? Your health literacy will allow you to do further research on the drug therapy, weigh the risks and benefits, and compare them to your own perceived ability to stick to a daily regimen of diet and exercise. Your health literacy matters.


Patient/Provider Engagement and

Shared Decision-making

Do you do what your health provider tells you to do without asking any questions? Do you search the internet for information on symptoms you’re experiencing, but fail to discuss that information with your health provider and self-diagnose? Do you clam up when you get your estimated 10 – 16 minutes with your health provider because you don’t feel knowledgeable enough talking about health care, or because you lack the confidence to have a discussion? Often, your level of health literacy will provide you with enough confidence to ask informed and knowledgeable questions that will engage your provider and allow you to share the decision-making process regarding your health.


Share what you Know

When you accompany someone to their medical appointment, a true advocate will arm themselves with evidence-based information so that they can ask the questions that the patient may forget or may not feel confident enough to ask. When a friend or a loved one receives a new diagnosis, you can be the one to suggest that you share only evidence-based information and guide them to refrain from internet medical hoaxes and miracle cures. If someone you care about is hesitant about a treatment, a vaccine, or a diagnosis, share what you know to be true, grounded, and evidence-based. Don’t forget to apply what you know when you are confronted with your own failing health. Often times we forget to put what we know into practice.


How to Measure your Personal Health Literacy

The National Library of Medicine, Boston University, and Communicate Health host and online health literacy tool shed, full of surveys on every health condition imaginable. Search this site and share it with friends, and make increasing your health literacy and those around you one of your priorities this year.