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Empowering People Through Health Literacy

Did you have to make an appointment for a laboratory test recently? My doctor sent me to ClicSanté. Most of us became very familiar with this site during the pandemic. Still, I was surprised to find out that I was supposed to use it make appointments for tests. I’m used to just going to the laboratory centre and waiting. Booking an appointment was not easy, and I am usually comfortable with complex websites. This is all part of health literacy.

What about people who have low literacy? How do they use our health system?

Health literacy is finding, understanding, and using health resources to make informed decisions about our health. It involves the skills to navigate the healthcare system, talk with healthcare providers, and understand medical terminology and instructions. Health literacy promotes healthy behaviours, prevents illness, and manages chronic conditions.

Health literacy is essential for several reasons. It combines three types of literacy: prose (reading and writing), document, and numeracy (math). Using these skills, individuals can:

  • Take control of their health and make informed decisions about their care.
  • Result: Likely better health outcomes and a higher quality of life.
  • Better navigate the healthcare system and access appropriate medical care.
  • Result: This can help to reduce healthcare costs and improve overall health outcomes.

60% of adults in Canada have poor health literacy

Some essential statistics from ABC Life Literacy:

  • 60% of adults in Canada are unable to obtain, understand and act upon health information and services and to make appropriate health decisions on their own. Seniors, immigrants, and unemployed people have, on average, lower health literacy skills (Health Literacy in Canada: A Healthy Understanding – Canadian Council on Learning, 2008).
  • 23% of Canadians find it “fairly difficult” or “very difficult” to find where to get health care (Consumer Health Products Canada, 2017).
  • 54% find it “fairly difficult” or “very difficult” to know when to get a second opinion (Consumer Health Products Canada, 2017).
  • Research estimates that providing chronic patients with self-management education and ongoing supervision by a case manager could create savings of over $2,000 per patient per year (A Vision for a Health Literate Canada – Canadian Public Health Association, 2008). 
Health Literacy at the pharmacy

Improve health literacy by using these strategies

  1. Easy to understand health information: Healthcare providers and organizations should use plain language and avoid medical jargon when communicating with patients and the public.
  2. Use graphics: Visual aids such as diagrams, pictures, and videos can help make complex health information easier to understand.
  3. Communication: Encouraging them to ask questions, participate in decision-making, and take an active role in their care can improve health literacy and outcomes.
  4. Improving access to healthcare resources: Letting people know what is available can help people get the care they need to be healthy.
  5. Education: Health education campaigns, workshops, and classes can promote health literacy and raise awareness about important health issues.

Improving health literacy requires that healthcare professionals, organizations, and communities work together so that individuals have the knowledge and skills to make informed health decisions.

Health literacy with your doctor

Health resources from ABC Life Literacy:

ABC Life Literacy Canada has many great resources to help people become more empowered with their health care.

The Health Matters Workbooks can help learners better understand how to speak up for themselves and their family’s health. The content is very interactive, encouraging the learner to reflect on their experiences, think through problems, and communicate orally about their health.

Ten useful health resources for patients & caregivers 

  1. Make a Medical History Card
  2. Health Passport
  3. Caring for a loved one
  4. Tips for your next Doctor Visit
  5. You and Your Pharmacist
  6. Your Rights as a Patient
  7. Glossary of Health Words
  8. Your Health Centres
  9. Doing Health Math
  10. Additional health resources

If you need help, call the English language literacy helpline: 1-888-521-8181

The Literacy Helpline is FREE and provides information and support for tasks that require reading, writing, and/or digital literacy skills. English-speaking Quebecers can call 1-888-521-8181 for assistance. The helpline does NOT provide medical help but can help people make an appointment on ClicSanté or show them where to find information.

Health Literacy for better outcomes
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