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5 Ways to Improve Your Health Literacy

5 Ways to Improve Your Health Literacy

February 14, 2022

How health literate are you? That is when your healthcare provider explains test results to you or outlines a potential course of treatment, are you understanding of the process, or do you struggle to understand what they mean? For many people, medical jargon—especially when combined with the stress of requiring medical care—may be tough to understand. Fortunately, there are a few simple things you may want to do to improve your health literacy.

Ask Lots of Questions

Don't ever be embarrassed or reluctant to ask questions when there's something you don't understand. It's likely that your physician or health care provider has heard this question before! And in order to make an informed decision about your path forward, you need to fully understand the implications of the decisions you'll make.

Rephrase What You've Heard

Often, it can be helpful to repeat what your physician has told you in your own words. This may do two things. First, it lets your physician know if there's something you've misunderstood or missed. And, second, it helps crystallize the information in your mind.

Bring a Loved One

If you find it tough to concentrate on a doctor's words while you're in an appointment, bring a spouse, relative, friend, or another loved one. Having someone else there to take notes and follow up on this information may ease the stress of trying to process everything while you're in the moment.

Keep a List of Questions

It's common to have questions after your appointment is over. Today, healthcare providers often have an online patient portal to email or message your physician after hours. If this isn't an option, keep a list of the questions you have and call during regular office hours with them.

See if a Patient Navigator is Available

Many hospitals and medical practices have a patient navigator or healthcare social worker who may help. Their job is to help you coordinate your care, navigate the healthcare system, and understand exactly what is going on at each stage of the process. Patient navigators may help you assess your options, fill out necessary forms, schedule appointments with a referral, apply for financial assistance or set up a payment plan for your care, or even find a clinical trial for your condition.

If you're not comfortable with your current level of health literacy, you're not alone. Only about 12 percent of Americans have good health literacy.1 But by following these steps, you may be in a better position to understand exactly what your physician is telling you.


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