During the first full week of April each year, the American Public Health Association (APHA) brings together communities across the United States to observe National Public Health Week. This annual observance serves as a time to recognize the contributions of public health and highlight issues that are important to improving our nation. This year’s theme is Healthiest Nation 2030.
In order to meet that goal, the #1 issue that needs focus is Health Literacy. The American Medical Association maintains that poor health literacy is a “stronger predictor of a person’s health than age, income, employment status, education level and race.” At the same time, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) states, “9 out of 10 Americans may lack the knowledge and skills needed to manage their health and prevent disease.”
In peer-reviewed research, low health literacy has been linked to poor health outcomes that end up costing people more not only monetarily but also in quality of life. These poor outcomes can include:
• Reduced ability to understand labels and health messages
• Limited ability to follow medication instructions
• Lower likelihood of accessing/receiving preventive care
• More hospitalizations
• Worse overall health status
• Higher mortality among the elderly
• Shorter life expectancy
• Worse physical and mental health
• Greater use of emergency departments
The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services states 18.7% of patients are readmitted to the hospital with the same or similar condition within 30 days of discharge, 75% of those readmissions are preventable and Joint Commission says 75% of those preventable readmissions are a result of miscommunication. Thus, it stands to reason that improving communication could help to improve healthcare. In fact, Reducing Medicare and Uninsured patient readmissions by 1% in Texas would save nearly $440,000,000 annually while improving quality of life through better health and sustained wellness.
“Health Literacy” means the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions in the treatment, payment, or coverage of care while successfully navigating complex health care systems. Last legislative session, HB 3105 in Texas sought to establish a broader definition of health literacy, to include a focus on the patient’s need for transparent information about health care cost, quality, and treatment options. In other words, improve the information the patient receives from providers and healthcare entities.
Several states have proposed or adopted health literacy legislation. Similarly to Louisiana, I would like to see all states adopt guidelines that make 5% to 10% of the total required continuing education credits of all providers be in the areas of health care disparities, cultural and linguistic competency, and health literacy. Also, all states could challenge university medical and health science centers, healthcare facilities, pharmacies and health centers to implement health literacy programs for both patients and providers to help meet these requirements while embedding health literacy concepts into medical education, workshops, community outreach and trainings regarding patient safety and patient communication.
Most importantly, in order to change the culture of health by 2030, our nation should integrate health literacy into K-12 Education. Bringing up a generation of health conscious and articulate consumers and workers is the only real way to reduce health disparities and improve access to high-quality health care, patient compliance and patient outcomes. Then, we can truly become the Healthiest Nation 2030.