Elderly couple

On June 4, News Medical reported that limited health literacy is a major barrier keeping people from achieving good cardiovascular health or getting the most from their treatment for heart attacks, heart failure, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases, according to a statement published in the American Heart Association’s (AHA) journal Circulation.

Health literacy includes the ability to read, ask questions about your care, understand documents with medical terms, perform basic math needed to take medication correctly and negotiate with health care providers and insurance companies.

Only about 12 percent of Americans have the necessary health literacy skills to successfully navigate the healthcare system and this is likely to get worse, according the AHA statement.

“A patient with limited health literacy may not understand that a stress test described as “positive” is not a good result,” said Jared W. Magnani, M.D., M.Sc., chair of the writing group for the scientific statement and associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pennsylvania. “Or we instruct patients to avoid sodium, when they may not know how to identify and quantify sodium intake or even how to interpret nutrition labels.”

“You can’t look at a person and know if they have difficulty understanding health terms. In addition, stress or illness may compound an individual’s ability to understand or retain information. Health literacy can fluctuate given the situation. That is why it is so important for practices to implement a standard to address health literacy with each and every patient. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) developed a Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit to help primary care practices reduce the complexity of health information and enhance support for patients at all levels of care,” stated Jennifer Geisert, RN, BSN – Quality Improvement Advisor with Great Plains QIN.

Read more