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The power of health literacy

Dr Liz Walder  |  10 January 2017

Healthcare is complicated, full stop. Health information is bursting with complicated language, random abbreviations, medical jargon and complex statistics, so no wonder many people find so difficult to understand.

Making science accessible is a real passion of mine and my working philosophy. Through both my personal experience as a patient, and my work as a medical writer, I appreciate how important accurate, easy to understand, health information is.

No-one patient is the same
Patients are people and with that brings uniqueness, this means all patients are different, they have different experiences of disease, different needs and different expectations. They cannot be put into the same bucket and treated the same way. They also have different levels of understanding which can change throughout their life-time due to age, lifestyle and any medication they may be on. All of this means creating tailor-made materials for patients is very difficult and creates many challenges.

With poor literacy being linked to adverse health outcomes, the need for improved health communication is clear.

Health literacy allows informed choices
Health literacy is defined as the communication of health information in ways that others can understand and act on. It is a vital step in helping patients make informed choices about their own health. It’s importance can be seen across the continuum of care from disease prevention and detection; diagnosis and decision making, to treatment and self-care.

Therefore, in the era of patient centricity, low health literacy poses a clear challenge for those involved in patient care, whether they are healthcare professionals, carers or the pharma industry.

This is where we have a responsibility to help take the fear away for all patients. Through the use of health literacy we can ensure patients understand the health communication material they have been given/found and when to act. We can help them feel more in control of the choice they make about their own health, and at the end of the day that is what we all want as patients.