Health Literacy and Actual Literacy

Why the poorly educated get sick more often

I was pondering why despite the accessibility of medicaid these days, and the large number of people we pick up that are on it and still in bad shape or go straight to triage, why the access to health care is still not enough.

It comes down to something called health literacy.

I define it as the ability to recognize and comprehend a problem with health, understand it’s level of seriousness, and access the appropriate level of care to meet that need. A lack of health literacy increases the likelihood of minor injuries and illnesses to become major, or problems that are chronic to become chronically acute. It’s one of the many reasons that without an education component, creating access to “free” health care will become a money pit.

But there is even a problem with that, that the new health care law ties reimbursements to visits, and that hospitals will receive less funding per patient if they have recurring visitors. After having several hospital stays myself for major and minor operations and getting educated by nurses and seeing my wife come home and beat her head against a wall after reading charts on patients that have chronic problems managed poorly, I know what the hospitals go through to teach people about their condition. It means that despite their best efforts to educate, some people will still go back to their normal state once they leave the hospital. It will inevitably lead to another hospital visit, and the hospital won’t get the money the deserve because a patient came back to them.

You can’t explain anything about health to anyone if they don’t understand in the first place, hence why to me health literacy is so closely tied to actual literacy. We even have universal access to basic education, and we see what the government has done with that. I’m a product of public education, as is my wife, and probably my son will be as well. It was engrained into us that school was important, so we went. I don’t see that much where I work these days. Basic literacy in inner cities is so poor that health literacy fails as well, and the fire department and the hospitals bear the brunt of it with people that are either not sick enough to justify the ride or so sick from something that could have been prevented.

Want to help health care? My suggestion: teach a kid to read, write, and think critically. Only when people understand their own health will the health of us all improve.

This article was written by rstine