Health literacy needs to be stressed

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Doctors are supposed to provide answers when you’re sick or injured. Yet research has found that many patients in fact do not understand their conditions and as a result, patients need to take a more proactive role in their own treatment to improve their health literacy.

In the past year, 82.1 percent of adults in the U.S. saw a health care professional. Because healthcare is in such high demand, doctors can only afford to spend 15 to 20 minutes of their time with each patient. An extra hour they spend with you, explaining everything you possibly need to know about your health, is another two to three patients that they can’t now see.

That was my experience at least. When I went to a doctor for tingling in my hands and pain in my elbow, I was told that I had mild carpal tunnel syndrome and sent home with a week’s worth of anti-inflammatories. The office was busy that day and the receptionists were ushering people in and out as fast as possible. I left the doctor’s office without knowing what carpal tunnel syndrome was, what caused it or how to guard against it. Even with the drugs, my symptoms got worse not better and if you consider my health literacy, that’s not very surprising.

When resources are limited, you only get the time that others allocate for you so it’s essential to make use of the time you do have. Ask the questions that need to be asked or clarify again just to make sure you understand. You might feel embarrassed for not understanding what the doctor said the first time, but you’ll feel twice as foolish for leaving without ever knowing what he meant. If you don’t know understand your condition, how can you take care of yourself?

Most health problems serious enough to visit a doctor for don’t go away if you don’t deal with them. Online medical databases can be a resource to bridge the knowledge gap, but they aren’t perfect substitute for doctors who can evaluate medical histories and symptoms face-to-face. Why pick the substitute when you’ve just paid a doctor to advise you in the first place. Take the initiative to become informed and do it right the first time. You’ll save yourself a whole lot more time, money and stress in the long-term.