More than a quarter of American adults have what’s called poor health literacy. They're likely to have trouble interpreting important written health information—or have difficulties communicating well with doctors and nurses. But does that mean they're actually more likely to miss taking scheduled medications or get sick?
Yes, say researchers who pored over nearly 100 recent studies looking at this issue. People with poor health literacy tend to be hospitalized more often, get fewer recommended screenings and are more likely to misunderstand instructions. The review is in the Annals of Internal Medicine. [Nancy Berkman et al., "Low Health Literacy and Health Outcomes: An Updated Systematic Review"]
Throw in the fact that, on average, Americans 65 and older get more than 30 prescriptions each year. Odds are, many of those people will have trouble understanding when and how they are supposed to take at least some of those medications.
Other researchers have pointed out that to improve health literacy, we’ll need to better understand how it is people most often get mixed up. In the meantime, checklists of meds and double-checking pill bottle labels can help ward off mistakes—and keep you off the wards.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]