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A female doctor and an elderly woman.

Health decisions are an important aspect of a person’s everyday life, making it ever so important to be health literate. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, Title V, defines health literacy as “the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions.”

Individuals and families might have to ponder a number of health decisions. In some cases, these decisions can pose real challenges. Some questions that might present themselves include:

  • How do I gather more information on my health?
  • What choices do I have in my treatment and healthcare?
  • What charges will my health insurance cover for my doctor visits?
  • Exactly what does my insurance company cover in my plan?
  • What are my healthcare needs today and how will they change this year?
  • What decisions should I make to improve my health?

Health Literacy is Important

Development of health literacy skills is beneficial to avoid insufficient health planning for families and individuals. These skills are also necessary to make major health decisions. The choices a person makes regarding their health can lead them to becoming more proactive about their overall health and well-being. It also helps them ensure they have appropriate insurance coverage, have properly planned for future needs, and are maintaining effective communication with a healthcare team.

Putting it Into Practice

Consumers are advised to learn more about health literacy in order to enhance research, critical thinking, and decision-making skills.

  • Obtain. Find health information and services related to your healthcare needs by using reliable sources. Consult with your healthcare team for detailed information on medical diagnosis, treatment, and medication.
  • Communicate. Advocate for yourself by involving trusted family members in health decisions. Effectively communicate pertinent information with your healthcare team by being open and honest about your concerns and medical history.
  • Process. Don’t ignore health information provided to you. Think about what information is given by the healthcare professional and ask questions when you need greater clarity.
  • Understand. Request information to be provided in simple, easily understood terms. Repeat back what was instructed by the healthcare professional to make sure you understand.
  • Use. Take the information you learned to make choices regarding your health and healthcare needs.

Practicing these skills will help consumers to be more health literate and to take a proactive role in managing their health.

More Information

Alabama Extension offers health literacy education to help individuals and families make more informed health decisions. Visit www.aces.edu to learn more.

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