By Penny Chastain
A young mother had been giving medication to her child for an ear infection for a few weeks. The child continued to be sick. During one visit a nurse asked the mother, “How are you giving the medicine?” She told the nurse that she was putting it in her child’s ear. The mother did not read well enough to know that the medicine was an oral medication and was to be given by mouth.
A boy was found to have a chronic disease. His parents spoke very little English. The boy’s original physician spoke the family’s native language, so the parents had a good understanding of their son’s health. The family moved, out of necessity, to a different state and began taking their son to a physician recommended by their first physician. This new physician did not speak the parents’ native language, which made it difficult for them to understand what was going on with their son’s health. Even the medication had different names and looked different.
The parents tried to discuss the boy’s health but communication was challenging. They trusted the physician because he had been recommended by their previous physician, so they did what they were told to the best of their ability.
One of the medications the boy had always needed was for blood pressure. The parents were unaware that the new physician had not renewed this particular prescription. The boy’s blood pressure went untreated for six years even though he had obvious symptoms. At age 11, he had a stroke and was in a coma for five months. While he was in the hospital, his parents concentrated on learning to talk with and understand the doctors and nurses. Now the parents encourage anyone who does not speak or understand English to not wait, but to start learning English right away. You never know how important it can be. (“Celebrating Our Journey,” Vol. 5)
The Adult Literacy Program at Muskogee Public Library will present special learning opportunities about health literacy throughout this month to help the adults in our program to become more aware and not be in situations such as these you just read.
Nearly nine out of 10 adults have difficulty using the everyday health information that is routinely available in our health care facilities, retail outlets, media and communities, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Current data from the American Medical Association Foundation indicate that more than a third of American adults — about 89 million people — lack sufficient health literacy to effectively undertake and execute needed medical treatments and preventative health care.
What is health literacy? It often focuses on a few skills that adults need in order to make decisions or take actions for their health. It is more than that. It is not just being able to read the information on a brochure, or communicate with a doctor, or understand directions on medications. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s Title V defines health literacy as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.
Adults need to know how to get information they need, be able to read, comprehend and know what to do with that information to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.
The Adult Literacy Department at Muskogee Public Library works with adult learners on health literacy when requested and needed.
If you are interested in helping adult learners increase their skills so they will be better able to understand health literacy as well as all other forms of literacy, including ABE, GED, ESL, U.S. citizenship test preparation and math, call Penny Chastain, the Adult Literacy Coordinator at Muskogee Public Library at (918) 682-6657 ext. 246.