The cost of limited health literacy, and how can it be fixed?

Patients who have trouble understanding, or acting upon, the information as it relates to their health are more than twice as likely to die.

So writes Pauline Chen in recent column, where she writes about how patients need to take a more active role understanding their health. It’s indeed a big problem, especially given the trend towards a more patient-centered orientation for medical care.

But, that means doctors need to spend the time with patients to guide them through the shared decisions. And that is something in short supply as the pressure to see more and do more continues to be ratcheted up.

Sure, there are plenty of techniques to ensure patients understand, such as asking them to “teach back” what they were just told, and encouraging them to pro-actively approach medical staff if they don’t understand their instructions completely.

But, if the system discourages doctors from spending the requisite time to implement these solutions, the hurdle in trying to improve the public’s overall health literacy becomes very tall.

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