This Friday, I will have the privilege of speaking at the North Texas Dietitian Spring Seminar on Health Literacy. Additionally, I am coordinating the Health Literacy Conference sponsored by the United Way of Tarrant County, UNT Health Science Center and Texas Health Resources to be held in April for health professionals. This emerging topic impacting health outcomes is of utmost importance to all health professionals. For registered dietitians, translating our language into understandable, actionable terms not only from the medical but also the culinary world can mean help our clients and patients succeed when it comes to optimizing their health and wellness.
Quality health care depends on effective patient communication. The effectiveness of health care communication has received increased focus with the advent of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requiring that consumers receive clear, consistent and comparable health information from health plans and insurers. At the same time, the ACA emphasizes patient-centered care using methods to improve patient understanding of complex medical issues.
Health literacy is the ability of the public to obtain, process and act on health information to optimize and maintain their health. A growing body of research indicates that limited health literacy can lead to adverse health outcomes due to patients’ inability to follow instructions on medications, labels and health messages. This is especially important in preventative care such as nutrition and physical activity.
Research estimates indicate that between one-third and one-half of all adults struggle with health literacy. This may lead to limited overall health and wellness, increased and longer hospitalizations, trouble managing chronic conditions, increased use of emergency care and higher mortality rates especially among the elderly, ethnic minorities and people of lower socioeconomic status. Limited health literacy costs the U.S. between $106 and $236 billion annually.
Health literacy issues have been traditionally viewed as individual patient deficits in knowledge and skills affecting their ability to manage health issues. Recently, adverse outcomes have been recognized as a health care system issue involving the complexity of navigating technical health information and exceedingly complicated health care systems. In this emerging view, much more of the responsibility for patient knowledge is borne by the health care system rather than by the patient. For many people, food procurement, preparation and nutrition are a foreign country with their own language, customs and mores. Registered dietitian’s translate for our patients to help them navigate food and nutrition and become successful in protecting their health.