HCF Fit and Well : HCF Fit and Well Winter
Improve your health literacy First up, says Professor Keleher, know that you have a right to ask questions -- even if a doctor may be looking at his or her watch, it's better for you in the long run to take the time to clarify any instructions. Then ask simple questions that go right to the point, like those recommended by an innovative US health education program: • What is my main problem? • WhatdoIneedtodo? • Why is it important for me to do this? "It's not questioning a doctor's skills, which many people feel nervous about," she says. "It's saying: 'Just tell me what I need to understand and why it's important'." Dawson advises against randomly 'googling' diseases, medications or treatments as the information is often wrong, misleading or not relevant in Australia. If you do have computer skills and access, then use good evidence-based local resources such as: • MyDr mydr.com.au • HealthDirect healthdirect.gov.au • Better Health Channel betterhealth.vic.gov.au She says the National Prescribing Service's MedicineWise website (nps.org.au) is also helpful and has a smart phone app to help people keep track of their medications. Or, tap into peer-support groups that bring together people with similar health issues and provide formal access to specialist medical support. Contact your local community health centre for details. one for diabetes, another for high blood pressure, another to address pain -- and can be very confused about doses, when to take them and in what combination. "If they get it wrong, it can mean their health doesn't improve or can actually worsen, so they end up back at the doctor's or, worst-case scenario, in hospital," Dawson says. Growing problem While particular groups of people are more vulnerable to confusion around their health care -- for example, the elderly and frail, and people who speak English as a second language -- it's by no means confined to them. In 2006 the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that almost 60 per cent of adult Australians have low health literacy, which means they are not able to effectively exercise their choice or voice when making healthcare decisions. This poses the very real risk of getting their treatment wrong. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recognised this as a growing issue, as health care becomes more complex and people are bombarded with health information and misinformation. "People with strong health-literacy skills enjoy better health and wellbeing, while those with weaker skills tend to engage in riskier behaviour and have poorer health," WHO stated last year in its Health Literacy: The Solid Facts publication. It noted that health literacy can be measured by how you: • understand what your doctor is saying to you • can assess whether information about illness in the mass media is reliable • can ﬁnd information on how to manage mental health problems such as stress or depression • clearly understand information on food packaging • participate in activities that improve health and wellbeing in your community. The local picture Professor Helen Keleher, Director of Population Health with the Frankston- Mornington Peninsula Medicare Local, says health ser vices and systems have to take a big share of responsibility when it comes to improving overall health literacy in Australia. "It's not an individual's fault that a lot of the written and verbal communication about health -- whether it's the doctor telling them in person or the handouts that go with medication and treatment schedules -- is complex, filled with jargon or given in a rush," she says. "All organisations and professions that provide health information to the public should be seeking to become a 'health-literate organisation'," Professor Keleher says. She recommends the 'teach- back' strategy where, after providing information, the healthcare professional will ask the patient to say back, in their own words, what they understand about their treatment, care and medication. "And if the patient can't say that back clearly and correctly, the clinician has not communicated it well enough."
HCF Fit and Well Summer 201415