According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, nearly 9 of 10 patients have difficulty understanding routine health information. Health literacy means the extent to which individuals have the ability to obtain, process, and understand basic health service and information. Health literacy involves many different skills including reading, writing, speaking, and critical analysis in order to perform tasks related to health. Factors such as cultural background and socioeconomic status also impact how we process health information.
Low literacy can impact individuals in many ways, specifically poor health outcomes, decreased use of preventative services, missed appointments, poor self-management of chronic conditions and diseases, and increased use of emergency rooms.
Limited health literacy can come at a cost. Adults with limited literacy skills may feel embarrassed or ashamed and hide struggles they experience with with reading and vocabulary. This can lead to health care providers being unaware of the patients limited literacy skills and needs. Additionally, healthcare costs increase as the overall health in our country declines. According to one report, the cost of low health literacy to the U.S. economy is between $106 billion to $238 billion annually. Improving health communication reduces health care costs and increases the quality of health care.