Improving Your Health Literacy May Help You Improve Your Health, Survey Suggests

A new survey published on October 19 found that while almost eight in ten people who reported having a recent blood test claim they understood the results, in fact 48 percent did not know their cholesterol level, and 65 percent did not know their blood glucose level.

The survey, which examined the state of blood test health literacy in the US, also found, however, that of the 1,000 consumers who participated in the survey, 35% modified their lifestyle once they understood their blood test results.

This new “Fundamentals to Wellness and Prevention” national consumer survey was conducted by GfK Roper, and funded by Ortho Clinical Diagnostics (OCD), a Johnson & Johnson company in the diagnostic testing industry. The survey was co-sponsored by the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACDD), a non-profit public health organization for chronic disease program directors of each state and U.S. territory.

The survey report is available on the website of the NACDD, as part of a “Know Your Numbers” Educational Campaign being promoted by the NACDD and OCD.

The campaign was launched during October in connection with, National Health Literacy Month, an awareness effort taking place October 1-31, which was founded in 1999 to promote the importance of health literacy by patients and consumers.

As part of their Know Your Numbers Campaign, OCD has also published, “Know Your Numbers,” a patients’ guide to diagnostic tests, which is available on a webpage launched by the NACDD at ChronicDisease.org. The webpage also includes links to other informational tools for patients to help them improve their health literacy and better influence critical decisions that relate to blood tests. These include a video ( see the video below) on the importance of blood tests in the diagnosis of many major medical conditions.

In addition, on October 19, OCD and NACCD released a report entitled, “Fundamentals to Wellness and Prevention: A Call to Action.” The report includes insights from the national survey as well as results from a summit convened by NACDD and OCD, along with 14 national public and private sector health organizations, focused on developing solutions to overcome blood test literacy barriers. Among those participating in the summit were representatives of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the American Medicine Association Foundation, National Consumers League, and others.

The Fundamentals to Wellness and Prevention report from the summit calls upon business, healthcare and government leaders to work together to help consumers become more aware of the importance of blood tests, facilitate timely access to test results and help consumers understand their blood test “numbers” so they can translate the knowledge into action.

Government Promotion of Health Literacy

It has been estimated that lack of health literacy costs the American economy between $106 and $236 Billion annually, representing between 7 percent and 17 percent of all personal health care expenditures.

The U.S. government, including the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), and other agencies, have placed high priority on engaging consumers in their own care to prevent chronic disease and lower costs, as part of a focus on prevention under the Affordable Care Act.

HHS issued a National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy in May, 2010.

This National Action Plan seeks to engage organizations, professionals, policymakers, communities, individuals, and families in a multisector effort to improve health literacy. The plan states that it “is based on the principles that (1) everyone has the right to health information that helps them make informed decisions and (2) health services should be delivered in ways that are understandable and beneficial to health, longevity, and quality of life.”

The stated vision of the plan is that of a society that:

■ Provides everyone with access to accurate and actionable health information
■ Delivers person-centered health information and services
■ Supports lifelong learning and skills to promote good health

A summary included in the National Action Plan states, in part:

“Two decades of research indicate that today’s health information is presented in a way that isn’t usable by most Americans. Nearly 9 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. … Without clear information and an understanding of prevention and self-management of conditions, people are more likely to skip necessary medical tests. They also end up in the emergency room more often, and they have a hard time managing chronic diseases, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. Limited health literacy affects people of all ages, races, incomes, and education levels, but the impact of limited health literacy disproportionately affects lower socioeconomic and minority groups. It affects people’s ability to search for and use health information, adopt healthy behaviors, and act on important public health alerts. Limited health literacy is also associated with worse health outcomes and higher costs.” [emphasis supplied]

The HHS National Action Plan states seven national goals to improve health literacy, and suggests strategies for achieving them:

  1. Develop and disseminate health and safety information that is accurate, accessible, and actionable
  2. Promote changes in the health care system that improve health information, communication, informed decision making, and access to health services
  3. Incorporate accurate, standards-based, and developmentally appropriate health and science information and curricula in child care and education through the university level
  4. Support and expand local efforts to provide adult education, English language instruction, and culturally and linguistically appropriate health information services in the community
  5. Build partnerships, develop guidance, and change policies
  6. Increase basic research and the development, implementation, and evaluation of practices and interventions to improve health literacy
  7. Increase the dissemination and use of evidence-based health literacy practices and interventions

The National Action Plan summary concludes, “By focusing on health literacy issues and working together, we can improve the accessibility, quality, and safety of health care; reduce costs; and improve the health and quality of life of millions of people in the United States.”

Improving the health literacy of the population is also identified as a key objective in the forthcoming HHS Healthy People 2020 report.

“Health literacy includes the ability to understand instructions on prescription drug bottles, appointment slips, medical education brochures, doctor’s directions and consent forms, and the ability to negotiate complex health care systems. Health literacy is not simply the ability to read. It requires a complex group of reading, listening, analytical, and decision-making skills, and the ability to apply these skills to health situations,” according to a report on Health Literacy provided by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM), part of HHS.

As part of National Health Literacy Month, the NNLM (at nnlm.gov) is also providing resources including free online courses on health literacy, videos on health literacy, and links to other health literacy websites and resources.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) also provides a Health Literacy website, which includes scientific and consumer information on health literacy, a focus on the health literacy goals of the HHS National Action Plan, and targeted information to help organizations involved in health information and services develop their own health literacy plans.

Access to Health Records

HHS has recognized that an important part of facilitating consumer health literacy is to make consumers’ own health records more available to them. In August, HHS proposed new rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) that would allow patients for the first time to gain access to their lab test results directly from the labs.

A key focus of the new Fundamentals to Wellness and Prevention survey and report by OCD and NACDD is “ensuring patient access to and understanding of blood test results, a critical component to maintaining health and wellness,” according to a release issued by OCD and NACDD in conjunction with the report.

According to the release, the survey found that although nearly 90 percent of people would prefer to discuss blood test results during a doctor’s visit, only about 40 percent have actually discussed their results in person. This was primarily because the results were either emailed to the patient or the patient never received the results. “In addition, some respondents reported that providers told them to assume everything was okay if the doctor did not notify them about the results,” the survey found.

“Based on these findings, the Know Your Numbers campaign was developed to help patients realize the importance of blood test results in maintaining their health, and encourage them to take a more active role in obtaining and engaging with their healthcare providers to understand blood test results,” OCD and NACDD said. “Key to achieving the goals of the campaign is ensuring that laboratories can get results directly to patients and their healthcare providers, currently a limiting factor in 39 states.”

“A key finding from the survey is that patients recognize the importance of their blood test results and want to have the information to participate in their care,” said Nicholas Valeriani, Company Group Chairman, Ortho Clinical Diagnostics (OCD). “Initiatives such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ recently proposed rules to provide direct access for patients to their lab test results will help ensure that consumers can take a more active role in managing their health in partnership with doctors and healthcare providers.”

“Diagnostic test results are your personal healthcare report card, influencing 60 to 70 percent of healthcare decision-making. It is crucial that people are able to obtain blood test results in a timely manner and understand the basic information provided to have a meaningful conversation with their doctors,” said John Robitscher, Chief Executive Officer, NACDD. “Empowering patients to understand the connection between their blood tests and lifestyle may help prevent the onset of a chronic disease, as well as help reduce unnecessary healthcare costs attributed to inadequate health literacy.”

“The first step to blood test literacy is access to timely information,” said Robitscher. “OCD and the NACDD urge healthcare professionals and government leaders to join the effort to ensure people have access to the information they need when they need it to become blood test health literate.”

About Blood Tests

“Diagnostic blood tests are a consumer’s wellness report card. They can flag the warning signs of a developing chronic condition and allow treatments to be better tailored to the individual,” OCD and NACDD said in the release accompanying their survey and summit report. “All this translates into increased healthcare productivity, potentially reducing chronic conditions and lowering healthcare costs.”

Blood tests are especially important in the prevention and treatment of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, which together “are responsible for seven out of every 10 deaths among Americans each year and account for 75 percent of the nation’s health spending,” according to a 2010 release issued by HHS. The cost of health illiteracy is high and can lead to increases in waste and inefficiencies that are estimated to cost the healthcare system between $106 billion and $236 billion each year, as referenced above.


Watch this video produced by OCD/ Johnson & Johnson on the importance of blood tests in the diagnosis of many major medical conditions »

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More Information

The full announcement of the new OCD/ NACDD survey and additional information on the survey results, along with the summit report, Fundamentals to Wellness and Prevention: A Call to Action, and other patient resources can be found here.

See also the HelpingYouCare™ reports on:

At National Health IT Week Summit HHS Proposes New Rules to Give Patients Direct Access to Their Lab Reports

New AHRQ Initiative: Questions are the Answer For Better Doctor-Patient Communication

Low Health Literacy Linked to Higher Death Rate Among Heart Patients

Americans Increasingly Find Health Information via Internet, CDC Reports

A Free Online Application to Manage Health

Study Finds Medical History Key to Correct Diagnosis

Can a Patient Know Too Much? Are You Annoying Your Doctors?

And see the HelpingYouCare™ resource pages on:

Practical Tips, Skills, Checklists & Tools for Caregiving and

The Family Caregiver as Care Manager: A Crucial Role

See further the HelpingYouCare™ resource pages on 14 different Medical Conditions Commonly Faced by Seniors, including resource pages for each of these 14 conditions on:

  • What is it; Causes;
  • Symptoms & Diagnosis;
  • Prevention;
  • Treatments; and
  • Caregiving.

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Copyright © 2011 Care-Help LLC, publisher of HelpingYouCare™.

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1 comment to Improving Your Health Literacy May Help You Improve Your Health, Survey Suggests

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