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Improving Your Health Literacy

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By: Karen Yontz Center Staff

Happy Health Literacy Month! Let’s break out the balloons and streamers and celebrate! “Wait!” you say. “What is health literacy? And why on earth should I care?” If you are a human being who wants to live a healthy life (and you’re on this site, so we assume that’s the case), health literacy comes into play most days. You want to be able to find, understand and use reliable health information and services. Health literacy is the degree to which a person can obtain, communicate, process and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions. And with the internet making all sorts of health information available to anyone at any time, health literacy becomes more critical. Do you feel confident in your abilities? If not, here are a few ways to improve your health literacy both in and out of the doctor’s office.

  1. Be prepared for your medical appointments: You only have an average of 16 minutes at a medical visit so it’s best to use that time well. Before you go, write a (brief) list of questions you want to ask your doctor. Practice a concise but descriptive explanation of why you are there. Make note of anything at your appointment (blood pressure readings, heart rate, etc.) that are different that what you notice in your everyday life.
  2. Take notes at (or another person to) your visit: Again, the average visit is only about 16 minutes and there is a lot of ground to cover so your doctor or nurse practitioner will try to get as much information to you in that short period. If you know you may forget things, record the information portion of your appointment on your phone or take notes the old-fashioned way. If need be, bring another person to be an extra set of ears for you. You want to make sure you get all the information given.
  3. Make sure you are doing accurate research: Not all health websites are created equal. If you are researching anything from specific symptoms to healthy foods, make sure you are getting reliable information from a trustworthy source. We all have the best intentions, but keep in mind that search engines tend to place importance on things like advertising dollars and number of clicks and not on accuracy of information contained on websites. For a list of questions to ask yourself when evaluating health information, click here.
  4. Don’t be afraid to speak up: Many doctors will have email addresses that patients can access through a patient portal (For example, myadvocateaurora.org). If you are confused about anything related to your health or simply have a question that only a doctor can answer, sending a clear, concise email to your doctor is a great way to be heard.

Being your own advocate is a necessary part of healthcare these days. Improving your health literacy helps you to be a more effective advocate for both yourself and your loved ones as you work to live the healthiest life possible.

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