October is Health Literacy Month!
October is Health Literacy Month!

Did you know among its many health awareness topics, October is also Health Literacy Month? We didn’t either! It’s a pretty cool thing to focus on, though, as it describes an issue we contemplate in almost every health-related grant application. As defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Affordable Care Act, health literacy is “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” When our clients seek funding to improve health and health care outcomes, the crux of many proposals becomes: What do people know about this health problem? What do they need to know to prevent this problem or make better decisions that lead to a better outcome?

On a personal level, health literacy relates to that feeling you get when a doctor throws out a term you’ve never heard and, before you know it, you find yourself in the mire of Google trying to understand what you’ve just been told. And it appears there is still much work to be done in this arena. According to the National Patient Safety Foundation, nearly 9 out of 10 American adults face challenges in using the everyday health information they encounter. Thus, due to the complex nature of health information, health literacy awareness hones in on how individuals, providers and systems can become more effective health communicators.

You can become an active player in this quest to improve health communication by: 1) establishing a relationship with a primary care physician; and 2) being prepared for health conversations with these questions:

  • What is the problem?
  • What may have caused the problem?
  • Is there anything else it could be?
  • What do I need to do?
  • Why is it important for me to do this?
  • When will I get test results, and what should I do to follow up?

Also, make sure you receive all of your free preventive benefits. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there are comprehensive preventive services that must be covered by your health insurance plan without a co-payment by you, including 15 preventive services for adults, 22 preventive services for women (including pregnant women), and 26 preventive services for children. Of course, the results of the upcoming election could impact these assurances under the ACA as Donald Trump’s plans call for a complete repeal of the Act. If elected, Hillary Clinton may make revisions to the ACA, but we don’t anticipate she will strip the Act of these critical provisions.

When it comes to enhancing health communication and improving health literacy, we could really go on and on…and on. But alas, we end here (for now). We hope highlighting this important issue will spark your desire for better information and help you be a more aware and confident health care advocate for yourself and your family members.