According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) 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.” This includes the ability to understand instructions on prescriptions, doctor’s directions and medical education brochures, as well as digitally sharing personal information with providers and engaging in self-care and chronic-disease management.
Only 12 percent of adults have adequate health literacy, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. Low health literacy has been linked to poor healthcare outcomes (higher rates of hospitalization, less frequent use of preventive services), which leads to higher healthcare costs. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion estimates the annual cost of limited health literacy is $1.6 to $3.6 trillion.
Patient health literacy is a vital factor in healthcare, as it is the foundation for improving patient engagement. A report published by AHIMA shows that patients who access their health information via any form of personal health record can improve their health literacy, enabling them to become aware of their health conditions, make their own health decisions, and engage in important conversations with providers.
New research shows that patients with lower health literacy are less likely to use different forms of digital health tools than those with high health literacy. This makes collecting patient generated health data (PGHD) a challenge.
As healthcare organizations continue to expand the use of PGHD to improve patient engagement and chronic disease management, enabling patients to use the available tools effectively is crucial. It’s within the providers’ responsibility to explain the value of digital health tools to their patients, to improve access, and to encourage usage.
In addition, a standardized system for data use would make PGHD more manageable and eliminate concerns regarding liability.
As the complexities of the healthcare system and health insurance can be overwhelming for patients, a patient advocate might fill the gap. A patient advocate is someone who represents the patient’s best interest in any medical situation. A patient advocate might be a relative who explains what’s going on, helping with prescriptions and organizing medical bills. Or it can be a professionally trained patient advocate hired by the patient to help navigate the healthcare landscape and ensure the best care possible.
Whether it’s a family member or a professional, an advocate can provide essential assistance with the choice of treatment by asking important questions, pressing to get answers, and coordinating care.
In the future, professional patient advocates can be a key factor in improving the safety and efficacy of healthcare. HIM professionals are poised to lead patient advocacy and help consumers understand their health risks, their diagnoses, and care plans. We need to ensure that all patients receive the full benefits from our technologically advanced healthcare system.
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