Health Literacy: Taking Care of Your Health

A key aspect to good health is to improve health literacy. In an effort to combat low health literacy, healthcare facilities have designated October as National Health Literacy Awareness month. 

Two women looking at a computerWe are taught that eating right and exercising regularly are the keys to overall good health. However, according to Sandy Oelschlegel, Director of the Health Information Center at The University of Tennessee Medical Center, another key aspect to good health is to improve health literacy. Therefore, healthcare facilities are trying to combat low health literacy, and in this effort have designated October as National Health Literacy Awareness month.

health literacy.Oelschlegel explains that more than 90 million adults in the United States have low 

“Health literacy involves knowing how to get reliable health information and how to understand it in order to make good health decisions,” said Oelschlegel. “Those with low health literacy may have trouble managing chronic diseases, leading a healthy lifestyle, have poorer overall health, and go to the hospital more. They also tend to make mistakes with their medications and fail to understand nutrition labels.”

With concerns surrounding the low health literacy rate of Americans, Oelschlegel explains there are several ways one can improve his or her overall health literacy and make more informed health decisions.

“All people, not just those with limited reading skills or people whom English is a second language, are affected by limited health literacy,” said Oelschlegel. “Health literacy is important for everyone because at some point in our lives, we all need to be able to find, use, and understand health information and services.”

Oelschlegel provides the following tips for ensuring accurate health information:

•           “Make sure you properly understand the medical terminology your medical professional is using to explain your diagnosis. Have open communication and ask questions if something is not clear.”

•           “Learn how to properly read drug labels on prescriptions and over-the-counter medication labels. Make sure you know whom to call with any questions concerning your medicine.”

•           “From audiologists to gastroenterologists to rheumatologists, understanding the roles of medical specialists is crucial in getting you the best care possible. Be familiar with the definitions of healthcare providers.”

According to Oelschlegel, a good place to start enhancing one’s health literacy is by visiting the Health Information Center at The University of Tennessee Medical Center, a public library for your health, either in-person, or via the phone or web.

“Libraries are a good place to learn how to be healthy,” said Oelschlegel. “The Health Information Center at The University of Tennessee Medical Center provides patients, family members, and the regional community with reliable information on the latest health news and free research for specific diseases or illnesses.” 

For reliable information on any health-related topic, contact the medical center's Health Information Center at 865-305-9525 or online at www.utmedicalcenter.org/hic. Staffed by medical librarians and certified health information specialists, the Health Information Center offers an extensive health library, digital and print resources, walk-in assistance, and help with research on specific health conditions – all free of charge and available to the public.

The mission of The University of Tennessee Medical Center, the region’s only hospital to achieve status as a Magnet recognized organization, is to serve through healing, education and discovery. UT Medical Center, a 609-bed, not-for-profit academic medical center, serves as a referral center for Eastern Tennessee, Southeast Kentucky and Western North Carolina. The medical center, the region’s only Level I Trauma Center, is one of the largest employers in Knoxville. For more information about The University of Tennessee Medical Center, visit online at www.utmedicalcenter.org.