How to Better Your Health Journey Through Patient Literacy

How to Better Your Health Journey Through Patient Literacy
March 24, 2023
RxLocal Team

There’s always something new to learn. For all the talk about exercise routines, diet fads, and even the profound power of riding a bike, there will always be a need to stay informed.

Whether you’re a healthcare provider or patient, being up to date with current trends is always beneficial.

The healthcare industry is constantly changing and evolving. Even for your doctor or pharmacist, some of these changes take a while to truly grasp. Imagine how you — the patient — would feel.

That’s what makes patient literacy so important. The world of medicine and patient care never stands still, so it’s essential to be as informed as possible.

Not only will patient literacy help you be in the know, but it will also help you lead an even healthier life. Here’s what you need to know about patient literacy.

What is Patient Literacy?

Using the term “personal health literacy,” the CDC defines patient literacy as “the degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.”

In essence, patient literacy is all about truly knowing the inner workings of your health journey. It’s more than just knowing health information — it’s having the confidence to apply that information to your everyday life.

This is especially important when it comes to your prescription medications. Knowing what your medications are — and how they work — will give you a better understanding of where your health journey is headed.

Also, reading up on your prescription medications can give you a better appreciation of how medicine can truly help and heal your body.

This also goes beyond the pharmacy counter. Take OTC products you can find at a pharmacy, for example. Your pharmacy likely has several kinds of anti-inflammatories, cold medications, or antihistamines.

They all serve the same purpose but have different ways of doing it. Claritin might be your go-to for spring allergies, whereas your friend or neighbor might prefer Allegra.  

Patient literacy is knowing what medications work best for you (under professional supervision, of course).

Get Literate on Patient Literacy

If the idea of patient literacy isn’t convincing enough, researchers have conducted studies to prove its profound benefits.

A Milken Institute report found that 88% of adults in the U.S. are unable to “navigate the healthcare system and promote their well-being” due to low patient literacy.

About 55% are considered to have “intermediate proficiency” and only 12% are “proficiently health literate.”

A lack of literacy can cause great deals of uncertainty and even distress. The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was full of speculation and uncertainty, primarily due to people simply not knowing what the virus really was.

Granted, that then leads to a discussion about journalistic practices and potential misinformation, so we’ll stop there.

The gist is that patient literacy makes you better informed about your own health and even current health-related events. An improved patient literacy can give you greater peace of mind during the most uncertain of times.

How to Improve Your Own Patient Literacy

Now that you know just how important patient literacy is, it’s time to expand your health-related knowledge. Expanding your patient literacy will do wonders for you and others around you.

Talk to Your Doctor

The doctor’s office can be a dreadful place for many reasons. Some are truly fearful of receiving a specific diagnosis, whereas others simply dread the inevitable small-talky, back-and-forth conversations with the doctor.

It’s just like going to the dentist: it’s necessary but you’d rather do without (side note: in the case of doctor or dentist offices visits, never do without).

During your doctor visits, the doctor will likely tell you everything you need to know about your current health. They will explain certain things in great detail.

Though they mean well, they will likely use industry jargon that sounds completely foreign to the untrained ear.

Always ask any questions you may have during your visit. If you’re confused by a certain term or you lost your train of thought, politely ask them to repeat themselves.

In the case of your own health, it’s always better to take the time to truly grasp your health journey’s trajectory. That’s always preferable to acting on speculation. As always, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Talk to Your Pharmacist

If talking to your doctor makes you more literate about your own health, then talking with your pharmacist will make you more informed on what medications you’re taking.

As mentioned earlier, different medications treat the same ailment in their own ways. That applies to OTC products and prescription medications. There’s a reason why there are a dozen different blood pressure, blood sugar, or cholesterol medications.

Everyone’s bodies work similarly, but with a degree of difference. That sliver of difference makes your health journey truly your own. As such, talking to your pharmacist about your medications will make that journey a little less foggy.

It’s all about starting a dialogue. Patient literacy starts with a question, and your healthcare professionals are there to answer. The patient-pharmacy relationship consists of more than just an amber vial.

That vial will indeed help, but a better-informed patient can leap to higher and healthier places.

Enroll in Patient Literacy Programs

Achieving competent patient literacy goes beyond face-to-face conversation. You don’t want to take too much of the doctor’s or pharmacist’s time — there’s a whole line of patients trying to get their prescriptions.

Several programs offer online resources to help you expand your patient literacy. Since you shouldn’t believe everything you read online, however, focus on who you’re getting the information from.

The CDC’s “Health Literacy Activities by State” is exactly what it sounds like. It provides just about everything you need to achieve a higher level of patient literacy.

You can also ask your doctor or pharmacist for other resources they recommend. They will almost definitely appreciate a patient wanting to learn more about their health.

Greater Patient Literacy = A Greater You

Just like any great expedition, your health journey’s success depends on several key components. Sometimes taking your prescription medication isn’t enough, and understanding why can make all the difference.

That’s where patient literacy comes in. A more informed patient will make better health-conscious decisions in matters beyond medicine. Patient literacy is all about understanding what your health journey consists of.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist. Enroll in patient literacy programs. They will contribute to a smarter, healthier you, which is what we all want at the end of the day.