Nearly 50% of adults (over 16) in the US are considered to be health care illiterate. That doesn't simply mean they can't read. In fact, many can read quite well. It means that they don't understand enough about their own health status and about the health care systems to be able to even ask the right questions to find out the answers they need.
The Costs of Health Care Illiteracy
- Handing Joe a pamphlet to read about his newly diagnosed type II diabetes won't help him to understand what diabetes is (it's not an allergy to table sugar?), how he needs to adjust his diet and exercise, nor how to take his blood sugars and his medications. Joe can read at an 8th grade level, but he has no idea where this diabetes came from, what he needs to do, and why it isn't going to go away if he takes a pill for 10 days.
- Suzanne found out today that she has MRSA in her incision. She had an emergency appendectomy 10 days ago and the incision opened up. She doesn't know what MRSA is. She doesn't know that she can spread it to her young children and her husband simply by not washing her hands after she changes the dressing, And she doesn't know that she needs to make an appointment to see an infection control doctor.
- James has hypertension but he feels OK so he stopped taking his anti-hypertensive medication. Today started out with a terrible headache and by 3 PM he was unable to speak and hie whole R side was paralyzed from a stroke. They gave him something to read when he was diagnosed, and the doctor takes his blood pressure every four months, but he never told the doctor he stopped taking his medication.
Physicians Don't Have Time to Educate Patients
In the average 15 minute appointment with your physician, you won't learn all about your new diagnosis and what to look for. You won't learn how to make an appointment with a specialist (especially if you have an HMO and need prior authorization first.) You won't always learn that a medication needs to be taken the rest of your life whether you feel better or not. The doctor doesn't have time to educate patients.
This is a task which falls to nurses, but many doctors don't have nurses working in their offices anymore because they can't afford it.
So it's going to fall to the public health system to develop plans to help educate the public which will help to reduce the high cost of health care.
Avoiding the H1N1 Catastrophe
Take for instance the scare we had a couple of years ago about the H1N1 (swine) flu. It was expected to be a pandemic that could have cause major havoc in the health care arena. But good education about simple techniques of handwashing, coughing/sneezing into your elbow, and staying home if you are sick, helped to prevent what could have been chaos at a time when most Americans could little afford to get sick.
If we organize task forces of nurses to help educate the public by spreading the word about other public health care issues, we can help to save many more lives, prevent complications from chronic diseases and cut health care costs significantly.
A National Nurse for Public Health is Needed Now
An Office of the National Nurse for Health Care can do just that. The National Nurse would work side by side with the Surgeon General to promote health and prevent disease, while working to improve health literacy.
|Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) the first RN in Congress|
On December 15, 2011, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) the first RN in Congress, and Peter King (R-NY) introduced HR 3679 The National Nurse Act of 2011. This COST NEUTRAL bill already has eighteen original co-sponsors. Please help support this bill by calling your Congressional representative and asking him/her to help sponsor or vote for this bill. Learn how to do this online.
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