Basic literacy refers to the ability to read, even simple language. On the other hand, health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. While basic literacy is a fundamental skill necessary for health literacy, health literacy requires a specific set of skills and knowledge related to healthcare.
Unfortunately, the level of health literacy among adults is relatively low. According to a Department of Education report on health literacy, only 12% of adults aged 16 and older are considered to have a proficient level of health literacy. This lack of health literacy is concerning as it can lead to poor health outcomes, limited understanding of treatment options, and difficulty navigating the healthcare system.
In today’s digital age, acquiring health literacy skills has become even more complex. The internet has provided individuals with a vast amount of health information, but some of it may be inaccurate or misleading. It is crucial for individuals to be able to differentiate credible information from misinformation to make informed health decisions.
As nurses play a vital role in patient education and engagement, they have the responsibility to help improve the health literacy of their patients. Nurses can do this by guiding patients towards reliable sources of health information and by teaching them how to critically evaluate the credibility of online health information.
Patients access health information through various channels, including blogs, social media, patient portals, and websites. While these platforms can provide valuable information, they can also contribute to confusion and misinformation. Nurses can educate patients on how to evaluate the credibility of these sources, such as checking the credentials of authors, ensuring the information is supported by reputable organizations or institutions, and cross-referencing information with other reliable sources.
Personal experiences with patients who self-diagnose using online medical sources can offer insights into the challenges and potential harms of relying on inaccurate information. Nurses can use these experiences to educate patients about the limitations of online self-diagnosis and the importance of consulting a healthcare professional for accurate diagnosis and treatment.
To assist patients in evaluating the credibility of health information found online, nurses can introduce them to reputable resources. One such resource could be MedlinePlus, a website maintained by the National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus provides information on a wide range of health topics, and its content is reviewed by medical experts to ensure accuracy and reliability. Nurses can direct patients to specific sections of MedlinePlus related to their health concerns and help them navigate the website effectively.
In addition to guiding patients towards credible sources, nurses can employ various strategies to improve the health literacy of their patients. These strategies include using plain language to explain medical terms and concepts, providing written materials in a clear and understandable format, utilizing visual aids to enhance understanding, and encouraging patients to ask questions and seek clarification. Nurses can also collaborate with other healthcare professionals to develop educational programs or classes that focus on health literacy and empower patients to take an active role in their healthcare.
In conclusion, basic literacy and health literacy are essential for individuals to effectively manage their own health. While basic literacy is the foundation, health literacy requires specific skills and knowledge related to healthcare. The low levels of health literacy among adults highlight the need for nurses to play a role in improving the health literacy of their patients. By guiding patients towards credible sources of health information, teaching them how to evaluate online sources, and employing various strategies to enhance understanding, nurses can empower patients to make informed health decisions and navigate the complexities of the healthcare system.