Explain how “health literacy” relates to Healthy People 2020.
Health literacy is having the capacity to process and understand basic health information, and applying this information when making health-related decisions. The responsibility of communicating health information is placed on health professionals and the general public expects them to communicate in plain language which is easily understood. When technical jargons are used, most people are unable to adopt the recommendations which are being put forward by health professionals.
The main objective of Healthy People 2020 is to improve the general health of Americans. Besides strengthening the current health policies, Healthy People 2020 also wants to increase the proportion of the population which engages in healthy behaviors. Unless health literacy is improved, the objective mentioned above would no be achieved. There exists a gap of knowledge between the health professionals and the public. The health professionals posses the critical information need to promote health living while the public does not have this information; they rely on the professionals to advice them. Therefore the hunger for information already exists and the impetus is on the health professionals to furnish the public with easily understandable information.
The inability to understand health information is often attributed to the manner in which it is presented. There are some factors like age and educational levels which play a part in limiting health literacy but most people blame their inability to understand health information on the manner in which it was conveyed. In concluding, health professionals and physicians in particular must disseminate health information in an accurate and actionable manner. They should speak in a plain language which cuts across all social and cultural boundaries. Health literacy is an attainable goal but the degree to which the public absorbs health information and adopts healthy behaviors largely depends on the language used by health professionals.
Please give examples of how health literacy (or the lack of health literacy) affects a person’s health behaviors
Due to a general improvement in education standards, it is often assumed that everyone possesses some basic form of health literacy. Understanding a medical prescription or sticking to a strict diet prescribed by a doctor may not seem like a complex undertaking to most people. However, there are people within our community who are unable process even the most basic health information without the help of a relative or close friend. Without getting into the details of the factors which limit their health literacy, it has already been proven that the lack of health literacy negatively affects a person’s health behaviors.
People with low health literacy are less likely to understand oral or written information given by health professionals. This is glaringly evident among the elderly population or people who are not native speakers (speak English as a second language). Such people are more likely to mix up the prescriptions given by a doctor, ignore important health information and in some occasions refuse to seek treatment for their ailments. Their refusal to seek health treatment is sometimes not voluntary; they are simply daunted by the prospect of navigating a “complex” health system. The countless procedures, appointment schedules and prescriptions appear like insurmountable challenges.
People with low health literacy prefer to seek health services from publicly financed programs instead of going to the private sector which offers better quality of care. Financial ability is often identified as the main reason why certain people opt for publicly financed programs but their health literacy also influences this decision. Public programs like Medicaid are perceived to be more suited for people of low income but the reality is the cost of care at Medicaid is comparable to a majority of private sector programs. Medicaid patients perceive it to be more ‘reliable’ and they ignore private healthcare mostly because of the fear of navigating a ‘new’ healthcare system.
Discuss the evolving challenges health educators face regarding improving health literacy.
The healthcare industry has undergone massive transformations in the last couple of decades. New medical techniques have been discovered and newer prescriptions introduced to replace the old ones. More importantly, there has also been a dramatic shift in health policies and such changes are unknown to the public. Health educators carry the responsibility of informing the public of all these changes but their efforts are often hampered by financial barriers. Nowadays, educating the public on health awareness is an expensive venture. For example, only a few public organizations can afford to run an important health message during prime time television; the cost of such advertisements exceeds the budgets of most health education projects. The same high costs are evident in other advertising avenues like billboards, magazines and newspapers. The options available for educating the public on health issues are simply limited by the high costs.
Other challenges faced by health educators include social and cultural barriers. We currently live in a diverse society which is dominated by different ethnic groups. The difference in earning power has further subdivided our society into different social groups. Health educators face serious challenges especially when communicating social-specific or cultural-specific health information. For example, there is a high prevalence rate of STIs amongst low income populations than high income populations. In some regions, large segments of the low income population are composed of people from a particular ethnic or racial group. How then do health educators convey important information on STIs without appearing like they are racial profiling? Such misconceptions hamper the health educator’s efforts to raise health literacy within certain segments of the population.