Four out of 10 people have trouble reading, understanding, and acting on health information, a major conference on tackling health inequalities was told.
Around 400 people attended the Knowledge 4 Health Conference held in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Dublin yesterday to consider ways to improve access to health information.
The event was hosted by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland and its director of research, Prof. Kevin Balanda, emphasised the importance of using health information to reduce health inequalities.
“It is about identifying ways to improve health services for us all and creating public health systems that reflect the needs of both the local and national population,” said Prof. Balanda.
Director of the National Adult Literacy Agency, Inez Bailey, said 40% of the Irish population had low health literacy levels and that was linked to poor health outcomes.
“Health literacy is the ability to read, understand, and act on health information and it is closely connected with health outcomes,” she said.
A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found people with low literacy levels had significantly higher levels of poor health than those with higher literacy scores.
“Patients who are better informed about their health have more effective consultations with their healthcare provider, are better informed about the medicines they are prescribed, are more likely to comply with their medication and, as a result, have improved outcomes,” said Ms Bailey.
Also, those with limited literacy and numeracy skills were less likely to make use of health screening programmes, tend to present at many later stages of the disease, and were more likely to be hospitalised.
One in five people did not feel fully confident they understand the information received from their healthcare professional.
A survey conducted by NALA last year found that 17% of participants had taken the wrong amount of medication on at least one occasion.
“Many people who deal effectively with other aspects of their lives find health information difficult to obtain, understand or use. Patients are often faced with complex information and treatment decisions,” said Ms Bailey.
“In practical terms, we need to undertake awareness raising and training activities with healthcare workers at all levels and health literacy needs to be integrated into all national health campaigns and screening projects,” said Ms Bailey.
NALA was successful in getting health literacy included in the new population health framework, Healthy Ireland and it is planning to work closely with the HSE and other interested parties to make the health service more literacy-friendly.
Ms Bailey said younger people — those aged between 15 and 34, were least likely to ask a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist, to explain things they do not understand.
The NALA research found embarrassment is the main reason why four out of five people do not seek more information from a healthcare professional.
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