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NEWS | Oct. 13, 2022

October is Health Literacy Month

By Aime Lykins, PSNS & IMF Public Affairs Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility

Walking into a hospital or doctor’s office can cause feelings of anxiety and vulnerability, particularly for those who don’t feel comfortable asking questions or navigating complex health challenges. For more than 20 years, October has been recognized as Health Literacy Month within the U.S. Health Literacy Month is a time to underscore the importance of making health information easy to understand and the health care system friendlier to navigate.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides two definitions of health literacy based on its Healthy People 2030 proposal:

Personal health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.

Organizational health literacy is the degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.

These definitions emphasize an individual’s ability to use health information rather than just acknowledge it so they can participate fully in their own health care.

There are many factors that may contribute to miscommunication in health care settings. Some of these include:

• Pressure on health care providers to see patients quickly.

• Provider’s lack of familiarity with strategies to communicate clearly and confirm comprehension.

• The use of complex medical terminology or jargon.

• Limited English proficiency among patients, combined with a lack of qualified interpreter services.

• Unrecognized low literacy in patients.

• Anxiety around making health care decisions based on limited information.

• Misunderstanding health information if the topic is emotionally charged or complex.

• Complicated bureaucracies for accessing and paying for services.  

• Cultural misunderstandings or assumptions among both patients and providers.

• Patient’s embarrassment to ask questions to confirm their understanding of health topics. 

• Difficulty separating evidence-based information (especially online) from misleading information, ads or gimmicks. 

• Limited understanding of the connection between risky behaviors and poor health outcomes.

Health literacy is critical as it helps individuals obtain appropriate medical and behavioral health care. Individuals with low health literacy may not get equal care because they have difficulty finding providers, filling out forms, and understanding directions for taking medications. There is also considerable psychological suffering created by low health literacy.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and the Indian Health Services provide free resources for improving health literacy to empower patients to interface more confidently with health care providers. The Naval Hospital Bremerton also offers informational classes and resources to help patients improve their health literacy. Military beneficiaries and DoD civilians are welcome to attend any of the naval hospital’s preventative care classes. For more information, call 360-475-4541.

The Department of the Navy Civilian Employee Assistance Program also offers free resources and tool kits designed to help individuals increase their health literacy. Tool kits and support services can be accessed by calling 844-366-2327 or visiting magellanascend.com.