Health literacy was top of the agenda at this year’s Patient Information Forum (PIF) conference, and got me thinking about how much we assume people understand about health and care.
Health literacy has been defined as: ‘The degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information needed to make appropriate health decisions.’
Recent research has found that 43% of people aged 16-65 are unable to effectively understand and use health information, and this rises to 61% if maths is involved. This means that between as many as 21m people of working age in the UK may not be able to access the information they need to become and stay healthy.
People who generally have limited literacy and numeracy (LLN) skills – including those whose first language is not English – are likely to have particular problems, but health can be a challenging area for any of us, especially in making sense of complex information; medicines management is recognised as a particularly tough one.
You also have to take into account the emotional aspects – being in a situation where you need medical care, particularly after receiving a serious diagnosis, is bound to mess with your thinking and ability to absorb new information. Ageing can affect a person’s literacy and numeracy levels, in addition to cognitive and physical impairment making it harder for older people to hear, see, remember and make sense of what they read or are told.