Is the lack of healthcare literacy affecting men’s ability to provide for their families? Brittni Brown examines the statistics.
Meeting the basic needs of the family is often considered a defining concept of what it is to be a man, and the ability to effectively take care of loved ones is a core value that countless men hold. Being a father, husband, son, or brother is being a leader in times of trouble. However, thousands of men are unable to provide help related to the healthcare needs of family members because of one profound limiting factor: healthcare literacy.
Healthcare literacy is broadly defined as the capability of obtaining, processing, and understanding instructions, charts, and prescriptions that are given to us by healthcare professionals. On the surface many of us think it isn’t that difficult, but a study by the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) found that only 12 percent of Americans were proficiently literate when it comes to their health. This leads to the questions: what are we missing, and what it is costing us?
Wait, Can you Explain that Again?
For men attempting to provide the right type of treatment for their families, a lacking health literacy can be a major limiting factor. For instance, poor health understanding has been statistically linked to increases in the likelihood of making costly mistakes in taking medications, hospitalization rates, and having more negative health issues. Furthermore, limited health literacy has been shown to slow down recovery times and limit the likelihood of responding to public health emergencies.
And healthcare providers cannot be blamed completely. According to study completed by the University of Texas El Paso Nursing program, the chronic nursing shortage has limited the amount of time nurses are able to spend with each patient. Limited face-to-face interactions make it far more difficult to effectively assess when patients are having problems understanding terminology associated with their diagnosis or the rules regarding their prescription medication. It can make it difficult for healthcare professionals to help confused patients who don’t ask questions.
Who is Impacted the Most?
Some studies have shown that an aging baby boomer population may be the most at risk for not fully understanding the doctor’s orders. Nearly 68 percent struggle with the numbers and calculations associated with medication, and up to 80 percent have difficulty with understanding charts and terminology used by their doctors. For men taking the responsibility for their aging parent’s health needs, this is something to consider.
Although the baby boomer generation makes up about 25 percent of the population, and is a significant percentage of the health literacy gap in the United States, the issue certainly isn’t limited to them. Neither is it limited to a specific demographic of minority citizens.
In fact, the same NAAL study that found only 12 percent of the population had a proficient health literacy also found that every racial demographic surveyed had a high percentage of individuals with poor health literacy. The results suggested that 19 percent of white, 33 percent of black, 24 percent of Hispanic, and 21 percent of ‘other’ Americans tested at a basic level of health literacy. Meaning they were likely to struggle with understanding technical jargon or following child immunization records.
Poor Health Literacy Costs
Aside from the many increased health risks and poor health habits generally associated with poor health literacy, there is also a significant financial cost. In 2011, the National Patient Safety Foundation estimated that the US spent between $50-75 billion in excess healthcare expenditures as a result of complications associated with poor health literacy. This breaks down to approximately $7,500 in unnecessary hospital expenses, such as emergency room visits or lingering health ailments, per family annually.
These unnecessary yearly health expenditures can be the difference between living comfortably and getting by paycheck to paycheck for many families. Providing for a family is not an easy task to be taken on, and having a solid health literacy is essential. Taking the time to more fully understand and ask questions about the terminology, medication, and treatment plan associated with the health of your loved ones can help.
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