Why Health Literacy is Important
January 15, 2024
Firstly, what is Health Literacy?
Health literacy is the ability to access, understand and use health information and services to make decisions about your health. It’s pretty important when it comes to improving people’s confidence and desire around going to seek medical care (which will help with screening numbers and earlier disease detection) and reducing health inequalities.
Why do we need to look at it?
In the UK, 7.1 million adults struggle with reading. This means that many people find it difficult to read and understand medical information such as letters or leaflets, follow instructions, ask questions, and make informed choices about their health and care.
Low levels of health literacy have significant negative impacts on people and communities. According to NHS England, people with low health literacy are more likely to have unhealthy lifestyles, experience higher levels of illnesses or premature deaths, less able to manage long-term conditions, and more likely to experience complications and events that could have been prevented.
Also, the longer people wait for treatment or don’t seek support, the more complicated issues can become, which potentially means a bigger cost for the NHS and staff to treat.
What is One Wirral doing about it?
We recently had a health literacy focused week on our social media platforms, discussing what we found during some health literacy sessions we held for different groups of people.
With the support of Wirral community organisations and healthcare professionals, we organised workshops for:
- People who use the services of Make It Happen Birkenhead
- People who live with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- People who are living with high blood pressure (hypertension)
- People who have Long Covid
- People with an ethnic minority background
- People who have a learning disability and/or autism – with the kind support of Wirral Mencap
- Practice Nurses and Healthcare Assistants
- People with alcohol and/or drugs dependencies – with the help of Change Grow Live
Through these sessions, here are some of the common concerns that were discussed:
- Not being able to understand the health information given
- Not enough information given because appointments are too short
- Lack of information being given on any local support groups or services
- Trying to get appointments can be stressful and confusing
- On line (E-consult) appointments require a lot of typing, which can be difficult
- Not enough education around how to access healthcare or make appointments for people who are from different cultures
- Not knowing when to take medication or for how long
- Too few interpreters available
And some of the suggestions that could help to improve their experiences included:
- Longer appointment slots for people who may need it such as people with learning disabilities, or people who need language assistance
- Simpler explanations – get rid of jargon, particularly in letters and leaflets
- More information given to healthcare professionals about what’s available in the community
- Information could be given out in different formats such as videos rather than just leaflets
- Providing a map of health settings, where departments or clinics are located
- Not using the 24 hour clock for appointment times
- Printed copies of notes from appointments for people to use and refer back to
- Digital support – how to use and engage with healthcare apps
By improving health literacy, we can help people to make better decisions about their health and care, and to achieve better health outcomes. Health literacy is not only beneficial to us as individuals, but also to society as it means more people have the knowledge to access care when they need it, but also look after themselves and reduce pressure on the NHS.