Have you ever been to see your doctor and he/she tells you that you have halitosis* or maybe neuropathy*? What does this all mean? There is a movement that has recently started; it is about the above scenario. It is about Health Literacy and we want to help you to understand what your doctor is talking about and how to use the information you have been given from your doctor to make good choices about your health and your family’s health.
There are so many terms used by the medical profession (myself included) that when a non-medical person tries to understand what has been told to them by their medical provider (doctor, nurse, pharmacist) it does not always make sense. This problem of not understanding what your doctor tells you is not just about people who don’t speak English; only 12 percent of English-speaking adults in the United States have competent (or good) health literacy skills. Of course not speaking the language of your doctor or health care provider adds another layer of difficulty to the health literacy picture.
Action You Can Take
There are some things to do to help you understand the information you get about your health. Here are some tasks to improve the communication with your doctor and other health professionals:
- Write down or record information from your doctors and their staff.
- Ask your doctor, nurse, pharmacist and other people at your health care office, clinic pharmacy or hospital to use familiar language.
- Ask questions if something is not clear. Ask who you can call if you have questions when you get home.
Let your doctor and others who care for you know if you can’t understand what they are telling you about your health. If the information is confusing or complicated, ask for materials written in plain language.
- Ask someone (friend or family member) to go with you to your next medical appointment.
A few good questions you can ask while you are with your doctor or health care provider are:
- What is my main problem?
- What do I need to do?
- Why is it important for me to do this?
*Halitosis is the medical word for bad breath. *Neuropathy is the medical term for any disease of the nerves.
For more information on Health Issues check out these recommended links:
For more information on Health Literacy check out: http://www.hrsa.gov/publichealth/healthliteracy/healthlitabout.html
 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2010). National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy. Washington, DC. P.4