Health and Literacy

“Take one tablet twice daily by mouth before eating.” This is an example of a simple instruction on a prescription. But did you know that, according to the 1995 TOFHLA (Test of Functional Health Literacy in Adults), in a study of 2,659 patients presenting for acute care at the emergency care center in two urban, public hospitals, approximately 41.6% of adult patients could not follow these instructions due to their inability to read and comprehend them? This startling fact is just one example of how literacy impacts health.

In a previous  issue of Thrive Detroit, I wrote about how four Detroit libraries were closing down as a result of budget cuts. Since that time, literacy advocates have joined forces to collect used and new books for six outdoor libraries. Some are placed at the sites where Detroit Public Library branches once operated. These waterproof pop-up libraries are operated on an honor system. But are libraries the answer to our literacy problem? Will more libraries help people who are injured and have had medical attention read the discharge instructions?

At the Essence of Motown Literary Jam and Conference presented by Motown Writer’s Network last year, Reginald Eadie, M.D, president of the DMC’s (Detroit Medical Center) Sinai-Grace Hospital made it crystal clear that medical professionals are continuing to face major challenges as a result of the inadequate reading comprehension of many of their patients. Concerns from health-care professionals all over the country have prompted additional studies, which also reveal that most of the adults tested do not believe they have a problem with reading or comprehension and do not seek help with reading from others.

What the health-care system will do with the results from their study is unclear. I can only imagine that doctors and nurses will allow more time with patients who display signs that they are experiencing difficulties with things like completing forms. I’m sure they will verbally explain when patients should take their medications and explain contraindications. Family members and friends must also step up to the plate if we want to help our loved ones who for whatever reason have not learned the fundamentals of reading comprehension.

The health and literacy facts are clear, but the reality of budget cuts in urban cities like Detroit remain. How do we address the fact that people are literally dying because they can’t read? Who will save us from ourselves?

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