What is Health Literacy?
Health Literacy means having the capacity to obtain, communicate, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. 1 Good health literacy is important not only for those currently seeking health care but also for those taking preventive measures to maintain their health. The more you learn about and understand your health, the more you are able to accomplish resulting in a higher quality of life.
Why is Health Literacy Important?
No matter what stage in life you are in, whether a student or faculty/staff member, having a good understanding of your health and the health care system is essential for successful access to care and use of services. Low health literacy has been linked to poor health outcomes such as higher rates of hospitalization and less frequent uses of preventive services, both of which are associated with higher health care costs.
You are responsible for your own health and the care that you receive. This includes taking preventive action for your health before disease occurs. According to research studies, people with limited health literacy skills are more likely to skip important preventive measures such as mammograms, Pap smears and flu shots. 9
The National Prevention Strategy outlines seven priority health areas to help reduce the leading causes of preventable death and major illnesses. 10 The seven priorities are:
- Tobacco Free Living
- Preventing Drug Abuse and Excessive Alcohol Use
- Healthy Eating
- Active Living
- Injury and Violence Free Living
- Reproductive and Sexual Health
- Mental and Emotional Well-Being
Student Health Services
Student Health Services offer many programs and services to aid in prevention:
Wellness and Prevention programs help students, faculty and staff live healthy lives
Despite the large impact that preventive measures can have on one’s health, unfortunately not all forms of disease can be prevented. If you catch a virus or get injured unexpectedly, you need to seek medical assistance for treatment. However, medical costs in the U.S. can be expensive and can only be supplemented through health insurance.
Accessing and Utilizing Health Care
- What is Health Care?
Health care, especially here in the U.S., is not an easy concept to understand. It is important to learn about the health care system, especially at its most basic level, so that you can navigate the system effectively.
- Health Insurance
One of the hardest aspects about the health care system is finding the coverage that is best for you. In order to find the right answer, you have to ask the right questions.
Remember though, this plan will change as you move through different stages of life. Always be aware of the benefits to your health care plan.
Here are some informational resources to help you become an informed decision maker when it comes to your health, your health care and navigating the healthcare system:
- Centers for Disease Control. (2016). Understanding Health Literacy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/healthliteracy/Learn/Understanding.html
- Health.gov. Health Literacy Basics. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. https://health.gov/communication/literacy/quickguide/factsbasic.htm
- Hansen, H.R. (2015) Investing the Association of Health Literacy with Health Knowledge and Health Behavior Outcomes in a Sample of Urban Community College Undergraduates. American Journal of Health Education, 46, 274-282.
- American Medical Association. (2016). Health Literacy. AMA-MSS Community Service Committee. http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/about-ama/our-people/member-groups-sections/medical-student-section/community-service/health-literacy.page
- Weiss, B.D. (2003). Health Literacy: A Manual for Clinicians. American Medical Association/American Medical Association Foundation, 7.
- National Network of Medicine. (2016). Health Literacy. US National Library of Medicine. https://nnlm.gov/outreach/consumer/hlthlit.html
- USC National College Health Assessment. (2015). American College Health Association.
- USC Faculty and Staff Culture Needs and Interest Survey. (2014). Student Health Services University of South Carolina.
- Health.gov. Health Literacy and Health Outcomes. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. https://health.gov/communication/literacy/quickguide/factsbasic.htm