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Peter Krogh

Ever Had Trouble Understanding Your Doctor, Health Forms, Or Pill Bottles?
You're Not Alone


ATLANTA /PRNewswire/ -- If you are unclear about what a doctor is telling you about your health or your elderly parent's health, you are not alone. Millions of Americans are affected by low health literacy -- have difficulty understanding and acting on their health care information.

"Many people are at great risk for unnecessary trips to the emergency room, medication errors, and other serious medical complications," says Ruth Parker, M.D., Emory University, Associate Professor of Medicine, citing an American Medical Association statistic which estimates that about 90 million Americans are affected by poor health literacy today.

Examples of problems stemming from poor health literacy.

  • A mother puts medicine for an ear infection into her daughter's ear, instead of her mouth, because she could not read and understand the medication label.
  • A 55-year-old man, who gives his insulin to an orange because that is what the health educator taught him during his diabetes education class.
  • A patient who, during counseling for colon cancer screening, tells his doctor that he does not have blood in his stool, because there is no blood in his "chairs" at home.
  • "Sad, but true, these examples illustrate how dangerous low health literacy can be," Dr. Parker says. Low health literacy affects people of all social classes, yet the elderly, chronically ill, and economically disadvantaged are particularly vulnerable.

    In an exceedingly complicated health care system, there is not one answer for low health literacy. However, patients and their families can try to prevent adverse outcomes from low health literacy by becoming more informed.

    Health literacy experts suggest the following tips may help some patients:

  • If you have trouble understanding what your doctor says, consider taking a family member or friend with you to listen to instructions about your health.
  • When you are given instructions for self-care of medical problems, review them with the doctor to make sure you correctly understand what you need to know to take care of yourself.
  • Ask your doctor to explain information to you in language you understand.
  • Take along all your medications to each doctor visit so he/she can review them with you every visit.
  • Do not be afraid to ask for help. Health care professionals are here to help you. You are not alone. Many patients have problems with health literacy.
  • Source: AKI
    PRN Press Room



    No claims are made as to the reliability of any of the information provided or linked, sources often disagree. None of these pages are meant to be a replacement for professional help, but a resource that enables one to be a more intelligent consumer. You can learn a lot by becoming aware of different opinions. Don't be afraid to ask questions when it comes to your health, physical or emotional.


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