Health literacy is the “degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make proper health decisions.” Health literacy is not only the ability to read information, but also the ability to understand oral communication, terminologies, understand how to navigate the health system on a basic level, as well as the capacity to communicate with health care providers and their staff. A large portion of members of the immigrant and refugee community that NMPHI serves are socio-economically disadvantaged, medically underserved with low literacy rates, particularly with the older demographics.
These communities need assistance in understanding and navigating through the complex U.S. health care system. The following are skills are essential for patients to be health literate:
• Communicate health problems to providers and understand health information being conveyed
• Read prescription instructions, understand and follow treatment regimens
• Read and understand warning labels to recognize potentially life-threatening complications and side effects of medication being prescribed
• Device self-care strategies and manage their health independently
• Read and understand necessary documents such as health insurance forms, informed consent, and treatment plans.
Limited health literacy result in poor health outcomes and higher health costs. Large number of immigrant and refugee communities have difficulties understanding complex medical terminologies, have hard time understanding the English language, struggle with filling out medical forms, or have limited access or knowledge of healthcare providers in Androscoggin County.
Thus, health care literacy is a vital component in the effort to decrease barriers to healthcare access and disparities. With proper training of health care professionals, the staff at NMPHI we can identify the client’s specific health need and provide assistance or refer them to the appropriate resource/providers.