The Importance of Health Literacy When Facing Chronic Illness
By Theresa E. Jenner, MSW, LICSW, CCM
Research and anecdotal experience frequently remind caregivers that low health literacy among patients can significantly impact outcomes and increase healthcare costs, especially in the context of a chronic illness. Yet to understand the impact of low health literacy, one must first understand the meaning of the term.
Federal statute defines “health literacy” as “the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand health information and services in order to make appropriate health decisions.” In simpler terms, does a patient understand her illness, its treatment and its progression? Can a patient communicate with her care team when she has questions or concerns?
The National Health Council estimates that 133 million Americans are living with a chronic disease. These people have various levels of functioning in the community. They may be living alone, dependent on caregivers or residing in a long-term care facility.