Health literacy, or the ability to understand and act on basic health-related information, is terribly low in the United States (and most of the world). Only 12% of Americans scored proficiently in a national test according to the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy. This has a tremendous impact on the healthcare system and general wellness of the country. It not only leads to poorer health outcomes, but notably raises healthcare costs. Health outcomes worsen as patients misunderstand what providers tell them and do not adequately understand the advice that they are given. Lower health literacy has been linked to lower knowledge of disease states, higher rates of chronic diseases, higher hospitalization rates, and practicing fewer preventive measures for common diseases.
While there is a growing push for providers to improve their effectiveness of communicating with patients, there are still those who slip through the cracks and will likely continue to do so as the reality of an overburdened healthcare system continues. There are, however, other proactive solutions that can be put in place along with improving healthcare communication. One of these, is to implement health literacy coursework in high schools across the country.
A class in which students could be taught about simple nutrition, basic medical terminology, common diagnostic tests, and explanations on why different patients and drugs have different dosing schedules could really go a long way in my opinion. It would help bridge the knowledge gap that is often so disastrous later in life and it might even lead to positive proactive health decisions early on. It is a relatively low cost solution to a major problem and one that does not take Federal reform, making it something that has to be looked at.
This is the second post in a series about relatively simple changes to education curriculums that could have tremendous long-term benefits to the country. See my first idea here.