Health Literacy and Best Care for COPD

Only 12% of Adults in US have Good Health Literacy

What is health literacy?  It means being able to access, read, understand, and use health information. In 2006 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that only 12% of American adults were considered to have good or proficient health literacy.

This is different than intelligence. Dr. Suni Kripalani from Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN, said, “People may be educated and functioning fine in other contexts, but may struggle to navigate the health care system.” The increasing use of technology and the availability of information on the internet make it quite challenging for many individuals.

What does this mean? Low health literacy may mean: ♦ difficulty in listening and following instructions from your health care provider ♦ making sense of medical words or jargon ♦ completing health insurance forms or questionnaires   ♦ challenges in making decisions about taking medications or surgery

Why is this important? Low health literacy has been linked to: ♦ poor health outcomes such as higher rates of hospitalization ♦ less frequent use of preventive services such as vaccinations and cancer screening ♦ increased risk of making mistakes with medications ♦ poorer control of chronic diseases

Maintaining health literacy involves listening, interacting with health care professionals, and closely following instructions.

Maintaining health literacy involves listening, interacting with health care professionals, and closely following instructions.

What does this mean if you have COPD? First, it is important for you to know as much as possible about your COPD. In 2015, I wrote a book titled COPD: Answers to Your Questions to provide basic information for those interested in learning more about COPD. It is available on Amazon and costs $14.95.  Second, make sure that you know how to use your inhalers. Remember, the medication only works if it gets deep into the breathing tubes. If you are not sure that you are using correct technique, ask the nurse or your health care provider to watch you inhale the medication. Third, keep a list of all of your medications and carry this with you. You should know exactly when you should use the inhaler(s) – either on schedule for maintenance medications or as needed for others. Fourth, have a written Action Plan in case you experience sudden breathing difficulty such as a chest infection. Know what to do! Ideally, you want to prevent the need to go to the Emergency Department of the nearest hospital.

Good health literacy is continuing to learn so that you have the best possible outcomes.