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Improving Your Health Literacy

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Health literacy means your ability to collect and understand your health information so you can make the best decisions for your unique situation.

Only about 12% of adults in the United States have good health literacy, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.1这意味着约88%的成年人可能缺乏管理健康的技能,减少疾病风险。


Why good health literacy is important

Health literacy is important for everyone. At some point in your life, you will need to be able to use and understand health information and services.

Your level of health literacy affects your ability to:

  • 在医疗系统,包括发现doctors and services, as well as filling out complicated forms and questionnaires and deciding on insurance plans
  • 用医疗保健提供者分享您的个人信息
  • do self-care and other at-home procedures
  • 了解诸如复发性风险(癌症越来越回来)和成本效益比率的概念(称重治疗的风险和益处)
  • take advantage of preventive health services

Having good health literacy skills allows you to:

  • 查找有关您需要的健康状况和您需要的健康服务的信息
  • 告诉您的医疗保健提供者有关您的需求和偏好
  • answer questions about your health conditions and your needs
  • understand the choices you have about treatments, doctors, facilities, services, and other items related to your health condition
  • decide which services and options are best for you
  • 了解并坚持您的治疗计划

People who don’t have good health literacy are more likely to:

  • say they have poor health
  • not have health insurance
  • be hospitalized


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Skills you need for good health literacy


  • 基本数学技能:测量药品,了解营养标签,计算血糖水平,以及保险共同的追踪和删除所有需要添加,减法和乘法等基本数学技能。
  • Literacy skills: Literacy is your ability to understand information, whether it’s written, spoken, or in another form. A person with low literacy skills may not be able to understand the instructions on a prescription label. People with low literacy skills also may have trouble understanding what their doctor or other healthcare provider tells them.

    Still, healthcare information can be complex, and even people with the best literacy skills may have trouble understanding all the information given to them by their doctor.
  • Basic health knowledge: This includes understanding how your body works and the causes of diseases such as breast cancer. Without basic health knowledge, people may not understand the link between lifestyle factors, such as smoking cigarettes, and disease outcomes, such as the cancer coming back (recurrence).

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There are many factors that can affect health literacy. The groups most likely to have low health literacy are:

  • 老年人
  • 种族和少数民族
  • 没有完成高中的人
  • 收入水平低的人
  • 非母语英语扬声器
  • 健康状况不佳的人

Factors that affect a person’s health literacy are:

  • 教育
  • language
  • 文化
  • 访问资源,包括技术
  • 年龄
  • whether or not a person has insurance

Still, it’s important to know that everyone, even people who are highly educated, can have health literacy issues. Especially if:

  • 他们不熟悉医疗条款
  • their health issue involves a part of the body they don’t understand
  • 他们必须解释关于治疗或程序的风险和益处的统计数据
  • they’re diagnosed with a serious illness, such as breast cancer, and are emotionally upset, scared, and confused
  • 他们有一种健康状况,需要复杂的自我护理

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How to improve your health literacy

At its most basic level, health literacy involves your ability to understand information about your body and your health. The information usually comes from a doctor or other healthcare provider and may be presented in a number of ways, including:

  • spoken
  • written
  • 作为图片,图形或其他可视图像
  • 作为视频或幻灯片展示
  • online or through an app


  • Ask questions.如果您不明白您的医生告诉您或仅了解其中的一部分,请提问。研究表明,当他们被医生所说的困惑时,许多患者令人尴尬地提出问题。不要尴尬!涉及到你的健康时,没有愚蠢的问题。向您的医生解释,您无法解决,并要求再次解释信息。
  • Repeat what your doctor tells you in your own words.你的医生可以在短时间内给你很多信息。为了确保您理解,它可以帮助您重复您的医生用自己的话语说的话。你可以开始说,“让我确保我理解。你说......“这让你的医生有机会清除你的任何东西或不明白的东西。
  • Bring a friend or loved one with you to your appointment, if possible.如果他们不能亲自预约,请询问您的医生,如果他们可以通过电话或视频通话加入你。让这个人为你记笔票,以防你错过了什么。如果您不了解您的朋友的笔记,请列出您的医生在下次预约的问题列表。如果您的问题更加紧急,例如如何服用药物或在程序后如何照顾自己,请立即致电您的医生办公室是有意义的。
  • Ask to work with a patient navigator if one is available.A patient navigator is someone trained to help you navigate the healthcare system and coordinate your care. Besides helping you understand your healthcare, patient navigators also can help you access health services, assess your treatment options, get a referral, find a clinical trial, fill out forms, and apply for financial assistance. In many cases, a patient navigator will have more time to spend with you than your doctor does.
  • Keep a running list of questions for your doctor or patient navigator.该列表可以包括您不理解的条款,关于您在新闻中看到的研究的问题,或您关注的副作用。您可以将列表保留在您的手机上或您带来的笔记本电脑,以便每次预约。
  • Ask for a translator or bring one with you, if needed.如果您的第一语言与您居住的人不同,您可能无法理解复杂的医疗术语或指示。如果提供翻译服务,请咨询您的医生办公室。如果不可用这些服务,请与您带来谁可以为您翻译的人。
  • Ask if there are hand-outs or other materials you can use to help you understand.Your doctor’s office is likely to have additional materials to help explain complicated instructions/information. Not everyone learns best by listening to someone talk. Some people learn best by looking at pictures. Other people learn best by reading the information, and still others learn best by watching a video. So ask for the information in the form that will be most useful for you.
  • 不要相信你在互联网上阅读的一切。There are thousands of medical information websites. Sadly, not all of them are reviewed by experts, and some exist only to spread bad information and sell items that may do more harm than good. The U.S. National Institutes of Health reports that it is becoming more and more difficult for people to separate health information based on scientific research from misleading ads and gimmicks, especially online.

    When you search for medical information online, make sure the website is operated by a reputable organization, such as the National Institutes of Health, the American Cancer Society, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, or other independent group. Check to see if the information has been reviewed by a person with expertise in that field. It’s also a good idea to look at a number of different websites to make sure the information is confirmed and supported by different organizations.


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写道:Jamie DePolo,高级编辑


Jenni Sheng, M.D., assistant professor of oncology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and research member ofGRASP(Guiding Researchers and Advocated to Scientific Partnerships)

Jessica Schulz, Ph.D., research analyst, Rutgers University


  1. Cutilli CC and Bennett IM. Understanding the Health Literacy of America Results of the National Assessment of Adult Literacy.Orthopaedic Nursing. 2009. Available at:

This content made possible in part through generous support from Lilly Oncology.

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