Think of a time you haven’t felt well. Let’s say you have a sore throat, dizziness, swollen glands, and feel achy all over. You are miserable and you just want to start feeling better. Unsure of what may be going on, you go to your phone and you type in your symptoms, yielding 66 results that say you have anything from the common cold, to strep, to cancer.
How do you use all the information that is provided? How do you narrow it down?
It isn’t easy. Navigating the world of health and wellness can be very challenging because it is chock-full of information. We are very fortunate to live in a time when information is more easily available than it used to be and advancements in medicine have given us a better understanding health and wellness – but with a tradeoff. Often it feels like it’s left up to us to make sense of it all.
Our ability to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions is known as health literacy. 1 However, with all of this information readily available, only 12 percent of adults have proficient health literacy, meaning the majority of people may lack the skills needed to manage their health and prevent disease.2
Why does this matter?
Health Literacy is critical to managing your health and living your best life! Our proficiency and understanding of it can:
- Influence the way we work through the healthcare system and the services we seek out
- Help us understand our own bodies, self-care, and preventative behaviors/choices
- Improve our communication with health care professionals and providers
- Assist with decision making and understanding of information
- Help us seek out care in more timely and efficient manners
When you have a foundation of health literacy, it becomes much easier to understand what questions to ask about your health, who to talk to, and when to seek help. Having health literacy can literally save your life. But the road to understanding health is full of many twists, turns, and trap doors.
How can we improve our health literacy?
Determine what is important to you. Reflecting on what our priorities are can help direct how we seek out information and care. The following questions can be used as a guide:
- What are the areas of health and wellness you feel are critical?
- What are the important things you want to discuss or learn about?
- What areas do you feel less confident in or want more information on?
- What are your biggest concerns?
- What are the barriers you are experiencing in your health wellness?
Answering questions like these can help you form a better understanding of your current knowledge base, encourage you to be a self-advocate for your health, and reveal gaps to fill in your health literacy.
Form a team. Find health and wellness providers who make you feel comfortable, communicate well, and provide you with the information you have reflected on above. There are a wide variety of experts in the various avenues of health and wellness – choose a team that supports your different areas of health. Some things to look for in a good health and wellness provider are:
- Active listening
- Asking follow-up questions to what you say
- Providing perspectives in regards to their expertise
- Guiding you to resources
- Being an advocate for you and your health
Sometimes you may not find your team on the first try, and that’s fine! Finding a provider you trust and can understand will improve your health. One bad experience with a type of professional does not mean that should be a reflection on the whole field. Take the extra effort to find who you work well with and don’t be afraid to ask others to help you find your team – you are worth it!
Stand Up For Yourself! Health care should be treated as a partnership – the health care professional is the consultant, but you carry out the plan. You have to communicate to direct the health professional’s understanding and awareness to your needs and life. Make your care an active discussion, express fears and concerns, and always know you can speak up. Good health care professionals (the kind you want on your team) will respect you and listen. Take advantage of your time with them. In addition, if an interpreter is needed, please request one. Tell the medical provider prior to your first visit that an interpreter is needed and one will be provided. At the end of the day, you are the number one advocate for your health.
Repeat information back and ask questions. The information you get at your appointment is going to help you make informed decisions about what is best for you at the time. Having someone with you to take notes (or taking notes/recording the conversation yourself) can help you collect and recall information. If something is unclear, repeat back to the provider what your interpretation of their words are. This will help you both get on the same page. Prior to an appointment or between appointments, write your questions down. This can help you to recall important points you want more information on and can help make the visit more efficient. Sharing your questions with loved ones and other health professionals can help direct the visit, especially when decisions are complex. If there are lingering questions after, don’t be afraid to call your provider’s office. It is okay to ask for answers.
Develop a network of resources. A lot of good information is out there, but sometimes we need direction in knowing what we can trust. Ask your trusted professionals about resources they use. Every health professional has their own network, sites, journals, and fellow professionals they know and trust. Let professionals help you build your own network. Additionally health professionals often have colleagues nation- and world-wide – you never know who they can get you in touch with.
To get started on developing your network, here is a list of health resources and professionals in performance, nutrition, mental health, and wellness.
Assess Your Information Sources
Remember, online information is meant to complement your knowledge – itt should not be the sole resource in your health decision making. But when you do seek knowledge online, keep in mind some of these considerations to help you to assess the accuracy of material you are reading:
- Who wrote or created the site? What is their background? Are they credible?
- What is the site promoting? Does it make sense? Does it seem possible?
- How up to date is the research and resources? Are there citations?
- Where is the information they are promoting coming from?
- Is there a financial gain that can be made from the site? Are they trying to promote their product?
- Can you communicate with the site? Are other professionals interacting with the site?
Inaccurate, conflicting, and confusing information can be a big barrier in health literacy. There is a lot of wonderful information available, but it is also important to know when more information may be needed. Here is a resource that can help you better assess what you are reading and whether it is missing any essential information.
At Know Better, Live Best we want to help you live your best life. Navigating health literacy can be challenging, which is why we want to be part of the solution. We are dedicated to being a resource for you.If there a topic or question you want more information on, please reach out to us. We will do our best to find an answer or direct you to someone who can help. Together we can start creating a culture that is proficient in health literacy. Let’s make a culture of wellness the norm.