Lack of health literacy leads to more preventable ER visits

Lack of health literacy leads to more preventable ER visits

Flu. Kidney. Jaundice. Osteoporosis. Are these words that you can correctly pronounce? Or does a trip to the doctor leave you with a twisted tongue?

Medical researchers say the ability to correctly read a series of health-related words is a surprisingly good way for doctors to determine if someone adequately understands basic health information. Knowing a patient’s level of health literacy allows physicians to tailor their message to ensure they are easily understood and that their instructions can be followed to a T.

A doctor, for example, can ask a patient to repeat back instructions to ensure comprehension.

Oftentimes, patients are given so much information, they just get lost in it.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Florida found that patients who don’t understand basic health information are more than twice as likely to experience a preventable emergency room visit resulting in hospitalization. That adds cost to the patient and further clogs already packed emergency rooms.

The study assessed the health literacy of patients visiting an emergency room by asking them to each take a brief reading recognition test that comprised 66 health-related words. Patients read the words aloud and were scored on their ability to read them correctly. The test, which can be shortened to as few as seven words, is a highly validated method of assessing health literacy.

The study found 10 percent of the group’s 4,444 total emergency department visits were potentially preventable.

So, if your doctor asks you to repeat a series of medical words, don’t be impatient. Your physician might just be saving your life.

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