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Health literacy is the ability to understand your health, medical care, and overall wellness. However, research shows that many adults find health information hard to understand. This includes what doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care professionals say, written medical instructions, and health insurance forms. Even when people have good access to health services, lack of information can make it difficult for patients and families to properly manage their health. The September 14, 2011, issue of JAMA includes an article about health literacy in patients.
Most people may find health care terms and instructions challenging to understand. However, low health literacy is particularly common among elderly persons, individuals with a chronic illness or disability, persons who live in poverty, individuals who do not speak English, and persons with a mental illness.
Research studies are looking at ways to provide easy-to-understand health information to help people with low health literacy make good decisions. In the meantime, here are some ways you can get the most out of a visit to your doctor.
The Internet can be a good source for health information if you know where to look. However, it can be hard to determine whether a Web site can be trusted or is up to date. Here are some tips to help you start your Internet search:
To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page Index on JAMA's Web site at www.jama.com. Many are available in English and Spanish. A Patient Page on the basics of health care insurance was published in the March 14, 2007, issue.
Sources: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, National Institutes of Health, World Health Organization, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Topic: HEALTH EDUCATION
The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 312/464-0776.
Torpy JM, Burke AE, Golub RM. Health Literacy. JAMA. 2011;306(10):1158. doi:10.1001/jama.306.10.1158
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