World Power: The Effect of Literacy on Health Outcomes
Posted Sep 12 2008 12:00pm
This article written by Susan Kendig, RNC, MSN, WHCNP, FAANP examines the relationship between the literacy of patients and their individual health outcomes. Kendig brings up the point that today, many Americans are "medically illiterate." In 1992 the National Adult Literacy Survery displayed results of a study, which showed that 40-44 million adults in America were reading at or below a 5th grade level. In addition to that, another 50 million Americans were classified as having marginal literacy skills. This meant that although able to read simple text, they were unable to understand lengthy, complex documents. Kendig chose to specifically look at women and illiteracy in the health care system. One specific case Kendig presents is of a woman who was sent by her gynecologist to a surgeon to have a problem "easily" fixed. After signing numerous consent forms and completing the surgery, the patient was informed at her post-op appointment that her uterus had been removed (Cordell, 2005). Another study conducted in 2004 showed results of female medicare recipients with lower literacy rates were at a higher risk of not having been exposed to a pap smear or a mamogram in over two years (DeWalt, Berkman, Sheridan, Lohr, and Pignone 2004). Other studies were conducted at numerous hospitals showing high percentages of patients who were unable to comprehend the instructions "take on an empty stomach." Simply directions such as these, seem to come easily to people for the most part. Unfortunatly, with an increasing elderly, unemployed, poverous, and muliticultural population the "medical illeteracy" rates are increasing at alarming rates. Kendig stresses little ways medical staff can help these patients when it comes to understanding and following through with medical instructions. It is sad that America has gotten to the point, where they can produce thousands of drugs which will save people's lives, yet these very people cannot read and understand the very means of administering these drugs. Hopefully, in the future America will be able to better provide medical information and education to those in most need of it. As for now, the medical world is responsible for helping these patients in order to increase patient health outcomes, which will lead to a better prognosis for most.