Consumer health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.
According to the National Adult Assessment of Literacy (2003), 14% of American cannot comprehend basic health information. The study indicates that health illiteracy is especially prevalent among:
- Adults who did not complete high school, with 49% having below basic health literacy
- Hispanic adults, who have lower health literacy than any other ethnic/racial group, with 41% having below basic health literacy
Low consumer health literacy costs between $106 to $236 billion a year in the form of longer hospital stays; emergency room visits, increased doctor visits, and increased medication, according to a recent report from the University of Connecticut. Consumers with low literacy levels often fail to engage in early detection and preventive health care. They also have significant difficulties navigating the health care system and following their doctor’s treatment plans.
As consumers are encouraged to take a more active role in healthcare, another source of information can come from professional organizations and associations involved in the medicine and health services fields. Professional organizations are often the standard-bearers of the field and provide some of the most updated information and development for healthcare professionals and their clients. Organizations and associations not only publish journals, periodicals, continuing education for members, but also relevant resources for consumers. Not all healthcare professional organizations provide access to information to the public (non-members), but here are a few organizations that offer information to improve consumer health literacy.
- The American Medical Association includes a page on its site dedicated health and medical resources, patient rights advocacy, parental packages, and health lifestyle maintenance.
- The American College of Physicians and Consumer Reports collaborated to introduce a series of High Value Care resources intended to help patients understand the benefits, harms and costs of tests and treatments for common clinical issues. The ACP website also includes a page for Patients and Families focusing on healthcare issues for adults including specific diseases and conditions and specialty topics. Watch the brief video below to learn more about the collaboration between ACP and Consumer Reports.
- The American Physical Therapy Association has created a website devoted to patients, Move Forward, that provides information on the purposes and benefits of physical therapy for health and videos for injury prevention. Another feature includes the “Ask a PT” section that provides consumers with the opportunity to send their questions to a panel of APTA physical therapists. For consumers who are interested in accessing information through social media, Move Forward has presence on Twitter .
- The American Dental Association’s new website for consumers, Mouth Healthy, has information regarding oral health. The website is organized by life stages and discusses healthy habits, top concerns, nutrition and fact or fiction information.
- The American Mental Health Counselor’s Association offers client resource links and a directory of licensed clinical mental health counselors throughout the U.S.
- The Case Management Society of America’s has a consumer page that describes Case Management as a collaborative process of assessment, planning, facilitation and advocacy for options and services to meet an individual’s health needs through communication and available resources to promote quality cost-effective outcomes. This resource can be useful for older healthcare consumers. The National Assessment of Adult Literacy (2003) study found that only 3% of older adults were determined to be proficient in health literacy. Older adults suffering from chronic conditions are more likely to need to navigate the health care system and understand complex health care information.
- The public page for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is a resource for food, nutrition, and health information. Consumers can find tip sheets, videos, brochures, and health & nutrition guides for women, men, and children.