90 million U.S. adults don't understand health information

90 million U.S. adults don't understand health information

According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy survey, two in five American adults have difficulty processing health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.

Imagine needing health care but being unable to understand the information you're given by a doctor. For 90 million people in the U.S., it's a reality with a long-lasting impact on health and finances.

Health literacy, defined as the ability to read, understand and act on health information, is vital to achieving the best possible health care results for each individual patient. It is being able to read an appointment card, follow a health care provider's instructions, use medical equipment or understand medication information.

According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy survey, two in five American adults have difficulty processing health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.

Health literacy varies by context and setting and is not necessarily related to education level or reading ability. It highlights the struggle of understanding and acting on health information. The American Medical Association reports that the most commonly affected patients—low income, elderly, people with limited education, ethnic minorities, recent immigrants and individuals for whom English is a second language—have more medication errors, excess hospitalizations and a generally higher level of illness.

Those with poor health literacy also are more likely to have a chronic disease and less likely to get the health care they need, according to the National Adult Literacy Survey. The study showed that 75 percent of Americans who reported having a long-term illness had limited health literacy and knew less about their conditions or how to handle symptoms. The need for awareness and adherence to health literacy principles has become a public health concern, estimated to cost the U.S. economy in the range of $106 billion to $238 billion annually.

"The widespread but often unrecognized public health challenge of health literacy serves as both a warning and a call to action," said Jack Harris, M.D., vice president of Eli Lilly and Company's (NYSE:LLY) U.S. medical division. "Overcoming health disparities is a transformational and important journey. At Lilly we are working to develop communication and health education that connects with patients in a way that's meaningful and understandable."

Lilly has partnered with nationally recognized health literacy experts to implement new standards to ensure the company's patient communications and resources adhere to health literacy principles. Lilly's health education efforts recently received national recognition from the Institute for Healthcare Advancement (IHA), which awarded Lilly the Published Materials Award for outstanding achievements in health literacy for two bi-lingual educational pieces. The educational materials Eating to Feel Your Best and Being Active to Feel Your Best and their Spanish counterparts, Comer para sentirse lo mejor posible and Estar activo para sentirse lo mejor possible, address the importance of making healthy food choices at every meal and staying active. Using colorful pictures, clear and concise information, simple illustrations, quick tips and space for personalized notes, readers are inspired, directed and motivated to take action to feel their best. Both pieces are available in English and Spanish on the Lilly for Better Health™ website at lillyforbetterhealth.com.

"We were delighted to present Lilly USA with our 2012 IHA Health Literacy Award in the Published Materials category for their 'Feel Your Best' patient education brochure series," said Gloria Mayer, RN, Ed.D, FAAN, president and CEO of the IHA. "These materials follow all the tenets of design for a low literate audience, and provide users with an easy-to-use resource to get and keep healthy."

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