Health literacy: what does it mean?
Maybe you know this situation: you feel ill. You have developed certain symptoms, asked for medical advice and received a corresponding diagnosis. And yet you don’t know how to deal with it. You haven’t really understood the medical explanations, and the therapy options are not clear to you either. What now? How can you be empowered to understand, use and evaluate information about your condition or health? How do you develop „health literacy“?
The Federal Ministry of Health defines health literacy as follows:
„The term ‚health literacy‘ encompasses people’s knowledge, motivation, and skills to find, understand, evaluate, and apply relevant health information in everyday life.“ Health literacy plays an important role in maintaining health and coping with illness.
As a result, individuals with high health literacy are able to use their knowledge and skills related to their health. They make informed, autonomous decisions and have higher self-efficacy or self-direction in relation to their health care. These individuals are able to motivate themselves to engage in health-promoting behaviors. For example, they pay attention to regular physical activity, a healthy diet, and regular health checkups.
A person with low health literacy, on the other hand, has difficulty understanding and implementing health information. This leads to poorer health and a higher risk of health problems.
Why do we need it?
Well-developed health literacy is especially important in our complex, modern healthcare system. In today’s world, much is expected of patients, especially in terms of self-management of chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. Patients need to be able to self-manage their symptoms and health in order to control their condition and achieve the best possible outcomes. This requires a high level of health literacy, self-direction, and self-efficacy.
Knowledge of existing systems of care and goal-oriented navigation through the various health care settings also have a positive impact. They ensure the shortest possible treatment paths, effective therapies and a better quality of life. Concretely achieved are improved handling of diagnosis, clear decision-making in the choice of therapy, effective access to the necessary resources and information, appropriate adherence to medication prescriptions or resilient management of symptoms.
What is the role of medical and nursing staff?
Physicians and nurses have a very important role in the diagnosis, treatment and follow-up of patients. They should support them in developing an understanding of their health and help them make decisions about further treatment. In many cases, however, medical staff are unable to provide this necessary support due to time and resource constraints. This often leads to increased stress for patients*. Education and knowledge transfer can be achieved through the provision of clearly understandable information and materials, as well as better communication between physicians, nurses and patients.
Another way to promote health literacy is to encourage patients to actively work on their health. This can be achieved by providing education on the disease process, self-management courses, and peer support groups or self-help groups. These resources can help patients* increase their self-efficacy and actively improve their quality of life.
Health literacy also important for caregivers?
The importance of health literacy extends not only to patients, but also to their close caregivers. When a family member or friend has an illness or health problems, close caregivers can play a critical role in supporting and coping.
However, caring for an ill family member or friend can be very stressful and lead to stress, anxiety, and depression. When caregivers simultaneously have a good understanding of their own health needs and those of their loved ones, they are likely to be able to, first, meet those needs, feel their involvement is meaningful, and feel less stressed, and, second, provide appropriate self-care and self-care, knowing their own importance to the other person.
Overall, health literacy is a skill that can be acquired and developed by all people. It is important that the healthcare system and stakeholders involved contribute to promoting health literacy for all citizens and ensure a higher quality of life.
Here is a first aid checklist for you:
– Educate yourself: look for reliable sources of health knowledge to educate yourself about your health and illness. These may include official websites of health authorities, medical societies, or self-help organizations.
– Ask questions: When you are with your health care provider, don’t be afraid to ask questions to make sure you understand the information and all your concerns are clarified.
– Take advantage of support services: Many health insurance companies and medical facilities offer training or classes that can help you improve your health literacy. Find out about such offerings and take advantage of them. Use expert knowledge, such as the patient driver’s license, to navigate the health care system in an active, safe and self-determined way.
– Maintain a healthy lifestyle: A balanced diet, regular physical activity and relaxation, adequate sleep, and a meaningful job can help you better understand and improve your health.
– Ask for help in your network: if you have difficulty understanding or evaluating health information, seek support from family, friends and acquaintances. Talking openly about your challenges and actively addressing your situation with others may help you cope more easily with feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness.
And if you’d like to learn more about health literacy, feel free to contact me. Additions and helpful comments are also welcome.