Lately I have noticed that at the end of every patient visit, the same question runs through my mind. Have I used words, analogies and explanations that are meaningful for this particular person? I ask myself because it’s hard to be certain that what I am saying is helping, rather than preventing, a patient from understanding his or her illness or my therapeutic plan.
Inevitably, though, I also find myself thinking of similar patients. Their memories – mental movies, really – run through my mind. I see them nodding, seemingly comprehending, then recall how weeks, months or even years later it becomes startlingly clear that they never did.
In this week's "Doctor and Patient" column, I write about one such past patient and discuss what researchers now call "health literacy" -- the ability to obtain, understand and act upon health care information. Almost half of all Americans, regardless of educational or socioeconomic background, have limited health literacy; and the cost can be tremendous, both economically and personally.
Has health care literacy affected your health or the health of those you love? I would love to read your comments below or on Tara Parker-Pope's "Well" blog.