About half of the nation's adults, or approximately 90 million men and women, have difficulty understanding or acting on health information they encounter every day, making them far more likely to rely on expensive emergency services than basic preventive care, according to a new Institute of Medicine report.
A coordinated effort by the healthcare system, educators, the media and consumers is needed to improve the nation's health literacy, the report said, noting that the problem may lead to billions of dollars in avoidable health costs. It said that even well-educated people with strong reading and writing skills may have trouble understanding a medical form or a doctor's instructions on drugs or medical procedures.
The report, "Health Literacy: A Prescription for Confusion," was released yesterday along with a similar report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality called "Literacy and Health Outcomes." The AHRQ said the nation's estimated 90 million adults with lower-than-average reading skills are less likely than other Americans to get potentially life-saving screening tests such as mammograms and Pap smears.
"Health literacy is the currency of success for everything that we do in primary and preventive medicine," said U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, M.D.