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Health Illiteracy Undermines Preventive Care
It is common knowledge that the American healthcare system is considered by many of its clients as unfriendly. Rosenbaum (2013) provides that communication strategies employed by healthcare staff such as doctors are poor. The result is the widespread perception that “Doctors are rude. Doctors don’t listen. Doctors have no time. Doctors don’t explain things in terms patients understand” (Rosenbaum, 2013). There are lifestyle behaviors that place people in different age groups at heightened risk of contracting incurable diseases and health conditions. Through proper communication strategies, it is possible to avail information to such people groups and subsequently have them adopt desirable and risk-averse lifestyles. Working as a volunteer at a community based health facility, I noted that health illiteracy poses significant challenges towards eliminating health disparities via strong advocacy for preventive care approaches.
Though the country’s healthcare apparatus is known to be unfriendly to its clientele, a worse scenario is presented among persons with low health literacy capabilities. For instance, these people often underutilize preventive care services and more worrying are the high rates of emergency room usage and avoidable hospitalizations. Reading through Rosenbaum’s article, “When doctors tell patients what they don’t want to hear”, it was clear that healthcare providers fail to appreciate the need for diverse communication strategies when catering for patients from different backgrounds (2013). The content in the author’s work now makes more sense after gaining critical insights as a volunteer in a community health institution as to how massive the challenge of ensuring patient satisfaction is for a doctor or nurse.
Numerous benefits abound to the healthcare providers and receivers of quality care provision since the introduction of legislation requiring healthcare insurance for all. Healthcare insurance encourages society members to seek preventive care services as opposed to depending on curative care approaches. The result is a society with better information on how to maintain good health statuses thus limiting emergency room and hospitalizations. Unfortunately, my experiences as a healthcare services volunteer, I noticed that these benefits are not being felt by people owning below average literacy levels. Even for the average person, choosing an appropriate health insurance plan is a daunting task that demands one to know the medications covered, deductibles, and other required information. As a result, most users often contend with opting for the same plan as they had the previous year.
For a person with low literacy levels, the situation is more brutal than can be imagined. I encountered a client facing such a challenge named Shawna. Shawna failed to complete high school after the having her first child and two more followed in quick succession making it nearly impossible for her to get back to school and earn a high school diploma. This client could not make any sense of the insurance language used as well as the charts and calculations required. These challenges are common for people in her community to the effect that many fail to conform to the legislation’s requirements if and only if they are in a position to afford one. Low level education often leads to lower income jobs that translate to low health literacy.
Shawna like many others has problems understanding own health and does not believe that there is much to be done about her sharp occasional pain in her right foot. After an appointment is made, there is the nervous wait in the waiting room and paperwork to be filled. With no help from a relative or friend and an unresponsive staff, she does what is doable and moves to the examination room. Much of what the physician says goes straight through her ears and she is unable to respond to questions posed by the overwhelming aura of the entire experience. She simply nods through them all and with a sense of embarrassment is happy when the episode is over.
From this experience, I came to be in full agreement with Rosenbaum (2013) article which implies that there is the need for the healthcare system to be more responsive to different client needs. I believe that it is critical that from the health insurance providers down to the social worker, there is the need to speak a language that each client is able to understand. Communication strategies are critical in enabling all staff within care provider institutions to understand a patient’s literacy levels towards achieving the successes envisaged through the preventive care approach to healthcare. Adjusting appropriately to unique patient needs is critical to the success of the country’s overall health status.
Rosenbaum, L. (2013). When doctors tell patients what they don’t want to hear. The New Yorker. Retrieved on May 21, 2018 from https://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/when-doctors-tell-patients-what-they-dont-want-to-hear