Poor health literacy or the lack of skill in reading and understanding information occurs in 36 percent of adults in the U.S. or approximately 80 million people as reported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The British Medical Journal published a study on March 15 reporting that poor health literacy predicts death at an earlier age then in individuals with proficient health literacy.
The study conducted in England followed 7,857 patients over the age of 52 years from 2004 to 2009. In this long-term study on aging, the researchers, Bostock and Steptoe, measured each subject on their ability to understand written instructions on what to do when taking a medication tablet. One third of the patients in the sample failed to understand the instructions on the medication label. Lacking the ability to comprehend the information means this segment of the participants exhibited poor health literacy. The authors stated that “This study is a reminder that providing information doesn’t necessarily equate to understanding. The patients most vulnerable to adverse health outcomes are those least likely to understand written health information.”
The investigation adds valuable information for planning and provision of healthcare services to older-aged adults. Scientists predict the Baby Boomer age group to swell the size of this segment of our population. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the most current data shows 38.9 million adults fall into the age group over age 65 years. The Baby Boomer generation reached 65 years in 2011. According to Pew Research Center, the Baby Boomers comprise 79 million Americans. When all Baby Boomers turn 65, 18 percent of the nation’s population will fall into this age group; whereas, currently this segment of the population contains 13 percent of the U.S. population.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in their Health Literacy Interventions and Outcomes Report in 2011 identified the need to advance design features of interventions to include techniques for conveying information orally or numerically. Information technology benefits the proficient literate individual, but fails to reach the individual with poor health literacy skills. Those with poor health literacy fall into the lower socioeconomic group and technology remains minimally utilized. Entrepreneurs and innovators need to develop creative approaches with technology to service this segment of our society. Novel techniques could have a deep and positive impact on the health of these vulnerable members of our society.