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Health Literacy: Does It Matter? Part 2

Posted May 04 2011 8:30am
Based upon Monday's post, health literacy matters in obtaining better outcomes in heart failure (just like Wall Street uses terms like equities & asset allocation rather than stocks & diversification to help us investors reach our goals).  But when you think about it, health literacy is a higher order of understanding based upon, at the very least, basic English comprehension & literacy.  Sure it's up to those of us in the medical profession to explain difficult concepts without condescension (that's why I like analogies - for instance, glucose = speedometer, insulin = tachometer, and Hemoglobin A1c = average speed - however, it also helps if you're a gearhead, like me) but typically we use English as our language of choice, not one of more than 300 languages spoken in our country.

But what about those of us for whom English is not our native tongue?  What about those of us who have not yet had a chance to become proficient in reading, speaking & understanding spoken (American, not Australian, British, or New Zealand), much less, written English?  In a retrospective cohort study of 1,257 children less than 18 years old published online this week , it turns out that those w/parents w/limited English proficiency stayed in the hospital longer (average 6.1 days) than those whose parents spoke English well (average 4 days).  At $2,500/hospital day in the facilities studied, this leads to an increased cost to society of at least $5,000 per child per stay.  

Given that 1 in 5 residents speaks a language other than English at home, half of whom acknowledge limited English proficiency, the additional cost to our society is tremendous, especially in a time when Nevada is contemplating drastic cutbacks in funding for our elementary & high schools as well as our universities & medical school.  Lest I am misunderstood, I write this not from a xenophobic perspective but rather to urge our legislatures to think ahead about the potential repercussions of their budget cuts and instead to invest in our future, our children.  If our children don't get the education they need, our grandchildren may very well end up staying in the hospital far longer than necessary.

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