October is Health Literacy Month

Each day, people face choices about their health.

These choices are made in places such as grocery and drug stores, workplaces, playgrounds, doctors’ offices, clinics and hospitals, and around the kitchen table. Receiving and understanding health information are vital steps in making good health choices.

Still, research shows nearly nine out of 10 adults have trouble understanding basic health information.

October is Health Literacy Month and it is a time to recognize the importance of understandable health information. Health literacy is defined as, “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.”

Health literacy affects people’s ability to navigate the health care system, including filling out complex forms and locating providers and services; share personal information, such as health history, with providers; engage in self-care and chronic-disease management; and understand mathematical concepts such as probability and risk.

Without an understanding of health messages, people are more likely to skip needed medical tests, visit the ER more often and have more problems handling illnesses or health issues.

According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, only 12 percent of adults have proficient health literacy and14 percent have below basic health literacy. The 30 million adults with below basic health literacy were more likely to report their health as poor and are more likely to lack health insurance than those with proficient health literacy.

Most people are afraid to ask their provider questions. However, when it comes to our health, there really are no dumb questions. When we play an active role in our own health care, we can improve the quality of care we get. Start by asking questions when you visit the doctor, nurse or pharmacist. It’s always “OK to ask.”

OK2ASK is a Health Literacy Campaign started by the Healthy Sheboygan County 2020 Health Literacy Committee. The campaign’s purpose is to encourage people to talk to their health care providers by reminding them that it is always “OK to ask.”

The OK2ASK campaign encourages people to start by asking their health care provider and pharmacist two simple questions — Why is it important to me and What should I do next?

Most people depend on different doctors, nurses, pharmacists and insurance programs for their health care. It’s a team effort, and you are the most important member of the team.

When you play an active role in your health care, you can improve the quality of care you and your family get. Remember that it is always “OK to ask” and that you can help determine the kind of care that you will receive.

You can find more information about the OK2ASK campaign and other health literacy resources by going to www.healthysheboygan county.com.

Libby Holte, CHES, is a public health educator at the Division of Public Health and is a member of the Healthy Sheboygan County 2020 Health Literacy Committee