Health Literacy Programs Only Treat Symptoms
The Fulton Sun (link via John Combest) ran an article about a campaign to improve health literacy in Missouri, aiming to increase individuals’ understanding and ability to use health care resources. Health Literacy Missouri is working on this effort in conjunction with the Missouri Foundation for Health:
The goal, said Arthur J. Culbert, president and CEO of Health Literacy Missouri, is that “information needed to make healthy decisions is available to all, and is easy to understand.”
But, he told a Thursday afternoon news conference, the new national plan is based on an understanding that “nearly 9 out of 10 adults have difficulty using the everyday health information that is routinely available in our health care facilities, retail outlets, media and communities.”
The low health literacy in Missouri is a result of two systemic breakdowns: one in education, and one in health care.
“[M]ost medical information is written at a 12th-grade level or higher,” Culbert explained, “and the average reading level in the United States is somewhere around sixth to seventh grade.”
The low reading level in America is in part a result of students remaining in failing schools, which is something that the school choice and educational reform movements are hoping to remedy. Beyond improving health literacy, improving functional literacy will improve a person’s job prospects and quality of life.
Even if one’s reading ability is sufficiently developed, understanding the jargon and complex structures of the health care system still confuses most people. The bureaucratic muddle that is our health care system is a large part of the reason that health literacy is difficult for many. That complexity is only increased by the wide array of types and levels of governmental involvement in the health care system.
Improving education and reducing the complexities in the health care system are vital to any efforts to truly improve health literacy in the United States. Health literacy is important, but focusing only on the symptoms of a systemic problem is not a long-term solution.