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US need to step up on health literacy

Only 12% of Americans can be considered as health literate, according a report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Health literate means having “the skills required to correctly complete health care-related activities like reading a prescription bottle, figuring out medication dosage, filling out forms or calculating insurance coverage.” according to a Reuters feature article.

This is really surprising considering the amount of information available on the Internet as well as all those health ads you see on TV. I am surprised, for example, to see advertisements of prescription drugs and medical devices on American TV, something that is not so common in Europe.

A 2003 survey categorized Americans into 4 health literacy categories: proficient, intermediate, basic and below basic. The result was quite troubling – 32% have some basic literacy while 14% ranked as below basic. Furthermore many of those with basic and below basic health literacy belong to cultural minorities and have no health insurance.

This lack of health literacy, thus basic health care is reflected in another health care report from Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC):

14.8% of Americans (43.6 million) have no health insurance. The majority of the people visiting a doctor’s office for regular check ups and screenings are those with private health insurance. However, people who are treated in emergency rooms tended to be those without health insurance.

This lack of basic knowledge of health care and medications costs money. The current cost estimate is between 106 billion and 236 billion US dollars. But I think that the cost in human lives is what counts. Stepping up on health literacy will surely save lives.

One Response to “US need to step up on health literacy”


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