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What is Health Literacy?

Discuss about the Health Literacy for Hospitals and Clinics.

Health literacy is vital for each and every person because everyone at in their lives needs to use, find, or understand various health services and related information. To take care of one’s own health is an important part of life, and do not only include visits to doctors, hospitals, or clinics. To make necessary and right decisions related to health, it is very important for an individual to have the knowledge and understanding of the information related to the health. Health literacy is one of the tools that can help the individual to protect and prevent various health related problems and its better management (Narang, Sen, & Shukla, 2013). Health literacy can be defined as the extent to which each individual possess the ability to obtain, processing, and understanding the basic information related to the health and the healthcare services for making valid and right health decisions. Various studies have shown that the limited or lack of health literacy is related to a wide range of various adverse outcomes related to the health, which also includes decreased utilization of preventive health care services, increased potentials of mortality and hospitalization, and poor disease related results for specific chronic health conditions (Mosadeghrad, 2014). Hence, this essay will include the importance of health literacy, various factors affecting it, the relation between effective communication and health literacy, and its importance in a multicultural health environment.

Health Literacy can be described as the social and cognitive skills that determine the ability and motivation of the persons to understand, gain access, and utilize the information in a manner that helps in maintaining and promoting the good health of the individuals. Hence, by improving the individual’s  access to the various health-related information, as well as, their capacity of utilizing it in an effective way, health literacy tends to be very critical and important to the empowerment ("WHO | Track 2: Health literacy and health behavior", 2016). Being capable of  understanding health-related information and making decisions based on that available information is very important to the well-being of an individual. Studies have found a relation  between poor outcomes of health and low literacy. Therefore, health literacy is very important for better health as it helps the individuals to understand and utilize the health related information for the better management of their health. There are a various individual, health professional, as well as, health system factors, which influence and impacts the health literacy. Where individual factors include health knowledge, literacy skills, experience, educational level, age, and demographics culture (Hester, 2008). The health care system and the professional factors involve communication and dissemination of the healthcare services, access to the healthcare resources and services, as well as, skills, experience, and knowledge of the healthcare professionals. As health literacy is very important for effective outcomes related to the health, it is very important to important the health literacy. To increase the health literacy of the nation a collaborative and multi-sectoral effort is required. Practices related to the clear communication skills, as well as, removal of the barriers related to the literacy are important steps for improving the health literacy. By means of proper and accurate delivery of  the health-related information, one can promote the culture and environment of the effective health literacy for the improvement of the health of each and every individual and the community (Finn & O'Fallon, 2015).

Factors Affecting Health Literacy

Communication is the most important and necessary tool for the provision of better and effective care to the patient and improving the satisfaction of the patient in a healthcare system and setting. Effective communication can be described as the communication, which  successfully and clearly delivered, received, as well as, understood. Effective communication is very important in the healthcare system as it impacts the quality of the therapeutic relationships between the patient and a healthcare professional, provide job satisfaction, as well as, have a great influence on the safety of the patient. Studies have shown that the ability of the healthcare profession to listen, explain, and empathize lay a profound impact on the functional and biological health-related outcomes, and to the satisfaction of the patient and his/her experience of healthcare provision (Bearne, 2003). Moreover, effective communication between the physician and the patient helps in regulating the emotions of the patient, facilitate the process of delivery of the medical information, as well as, enables better recognition of the needs, expectations, and perceptions of the patient. The nature, as well as, quality of the effective communication within a health care setting are affected by a broad range of various factors, like socioeconomic factors, literacy factors, behavioral factors, and cultural factors, which also includes various work based factors and policy (Babatunde, 2013).


Cultural, as well as, social structures, like religion, race, education, language, economic status, and ethnicity status are the major contributors towards the well-being and health of the individuals. A wide range of cultural diversity is represented by the patients. The increase in the demographic variation of the populations in several countries needs an approach and process for effective management of the  complexity related to the difference of sociocultural factors. The health care setting’s quality is the result of cooperation developed between the healthcare professional and the patient in an effective and supportive environment. Various personal factors related to the patient and the healthcare professional, as well as, factors related to the organization, the healthcare setting and the system impact the quality of the healthcare services (Mosadeghrad, 2014). It has been observed that the individuals whose first language is different and is not English faces more trouble in understanding the health information that is in English in comparison to the individuals who speak English. In the year of 2006, it was observed that around three million people in Australia spoke English as their second language in between the age groups of 15-74 years. About only one-quarter of this population possess adequate health literacy in comparison to the 44% of the population whose first language was English (abs.gov.au).

Importance of Effective Communication in Healthcare

The relationship amongst poor health and limited or low health literacy are somehow related to the poor quality of communication within the health care setting and delivery of the healthcare services (Wynia & Osborn, 2010).  In general, the health literacy and effective communication are considered to be interrelated with each other but have different concepts. Where effective communication is an exchange of information, health literacy is the utilization of various abilities and skills by the individual.  The communication between the patient and the physician is considered to be an important and fundamental characteristic of the medical care. However, research has found that the patients generally have trouble in understanding the instructions regarding medical information from the physicians. Physicians generally utilize medical jargon without confirming the understanding of the discussion by the patient and even deliver a vast amount of information in a single time. As a result of the medical encounter, it has been observed that the patients generally remember half or even less of the information explained by the physician and may be uncertain regarding the steps to be taken next. Hence, it has been clear that a reduced health literacy attributes towards the communication gap existing between the patients and the physicians (Kripalani & Weiss, 2006). The language or terminology used by the health care professionals for communication with the patients tend to be a barrier in the cases where patients have inadequate or low health literacy. Moreover, research has also shown that the use of medical terms by the physicians in combination with the inadequate health vocabulary of the patient leads to the confusing and inadequate communication between the patient and the physician. As the health literacy, as well as, the effective communication interrelated to each other, it is very important to assess the health literacy of the patient for development of the better and effective communication and relationship with the patient (Hester, 2008).


Effective communication is very important and is the foundation of the efficient health care. It is very important for providing and delivering good health services, health-related information, and for achieving a high level of satisfaction of the  patient. However, it has been observed that the patients who have low health literacy often fails to understand the information provided to them by the physicians (Babatunde, 2013). Hence, health literacy is very important for developing effective communication, as well as, therapeutic relationship between the patient and the healthcare professional. It is very important for having effective communication with the patient, his/her level of health literacy is fully assessed. It has been observed that the link between the poor health and the low health literacy can be the result of the poor quality of the communication within the organizations involved in the delivery of the health care services. Therefore, for effective communication with the low health literacy patients requires the ability to recognize and identifying the problem and the level of the health literacy of the patient, thereby, creating a patient-centered health care environment for better understanding and knowledge of the patient (Hester, 2008). Although various healthcare professionals have a general conception that instructions and explanations provided them to the patients, as well as, their families are completely understood,  but in truth, this information is mostly misunderstood, and in some case even result in the serious errors. The common reason behind misunderstanding these health related instructions and information may be due to the fewer skills of the patient related to the health literacy. Therefore, health literacy is very important for having effective communication with the patient (Bearne, 2003).

Importance of Health Literacy in a Multicultural Health Environment

Today the healthcare professionals are involved in the provision of the healthcare services, education, as well as, case management related information and instructions to a diverse population of the patient, which is challenged by a triad of various barriers related to the linguistic, cultural, and health literacy parameters. The culturally based values, beliefs, and preferences that an individual holds impacts the interpretation of the messages and information related to the healthcare by the individual. Due to the diverse cultural diversities, the disparities in the health literacy can occur. Culture, as well as, language impacts the way the patients apply and acquire their skills in various health situations. Hence, addressing the critical and interactive and health literacy requirements of a population of the patients presents a complex and varied  set of issues and problems for both the researchers and the health providers (Bosworth, 2010). Understanding the level of the health literacy of the patient needs an assessment and clear understanding of the cultural norms and the linguistic skills of the patient, as well as, integration of the cultural norms  and skills into the strategies related to the health literacy for the healthcare plan of the patient. The issues and barriers in developing effective communication due to the poor health literacy of the patient can be related to the cultural differences between the healthcare professional and the patient. The challenges related to the low health literacy, as well as, cultural differences restricts the development of the effective communication and are most likely found to be increased with the increasing and expanding diverse population (Lie, Carter-Pokras, Braun, & Coleman, 2012). Moreover, other issues related to the low health literacy is the differences in the ethnicity and race of the patients, and different health disparities causing due to various mechanisms and process of poor adherence and understanding by the patient, and due to the limited access and acquiring of the health care services (Bosworth, 2010).


Health literacy is observed to be the basic fundamental requirement for the high and effective quality of the healthcare, as well as, for the good health of the patients. Low health literacy can lead to the vulnerability of the patient and can lead to the inequity and disparities in the health care. Addressing and describing the health literacy is the means of empowering the patients to be capable enough of making their decisions, as well as, for taking appropriate steps and action related to their health and the information of the health care, thus, contributing towards a high quality and safe healthcare system (Finn & O'Fallon, 2015). As it is clear that low health literacy results in poor outcomes related to the health of the patient, addressing and describing the health literacy in the most appropriate and coordinated manner needs the focus to increase the health literacy levels of the individuals, as well as, making required changes and variations to the healthcare environment’s health literacy. Direct communication related to the diseases and other health related issues, targeting the population with low literacy skills, application of the various health literacy related design standards and principles by the health professionals involving the health-related services and information are few ways of increasing the health literacy of the individuals (Bosworth, 2010).  Health care providers play an  important role in improving the health literacy of the patient and should work in collaboration with each other for developing required skills with the patients for better understanding and utilization of the information and instructions provided by them to the patients. Efforts should be made in educating the health literacy in the most effective way that can be gained by each and every individual, thereby, improving the health outcomes of the individuals.

References

Australian Social Trends, June 2009. (2009). Abs.gov.au. Retrieved 16 September 2016, from https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/[email protected]/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features20June+2009

Babatunde, O. (2013). Importance of Effective Communication in Public Organisations. ISS, 3(2), 78.

Bearne, E. (2003). Rethinking literacy: communication, representation and text. Literacy, 37(3), 98-103.

Bosworth, H. (2010). Challenges and strategies to improve patient health literacy and competencies. PI, 19.

Finn, S. & O'Fallon, L. (2015). The Emergence of Environmental Health Literacy—From Its Roots to Its Future Potential. Environ Health Perspect.

Hester, E. (2008). An Investigation of the Relationship Between Health Literacy and Social Communication Skills in Older Adults. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 30(2), 112-119.

Kripalani, S. & Weiss, B. (2006). Teaching about health literacy and clear communication. J Gen Intern Med, 21(8), 888-890.

Lie, D., Carter-Pokras, O., Braun, B., & Coleman, C. (2012). What Do Health Literacy and Cultural Competence Have in Common? Calling for a Collaborative Health Professional Pedagogy. Journal Of Health Communication, 17(sup3), 13-22.

Mosadeghrad, A. (2014). Factors Influencing Healthcare Service Quality. International Journal Of Health Policy And Management, 3(2), 77-89.

Narang, S., Sen, B., & Shukla, A. (2013). Information Literacy, Health Literacy, Health Information Literacy-What are they about?. Lib. Her., 51(4), 323.

WHO | Track 2: Health literacy and health behaviour. (2016). Who.int. Retrieved 15 September 2016, from https://www.who.int/healthpromotion/conferences/7gchp/track2/en/

Wynia, M. & Osborn, C. (2010). Health Literacy and Communication Quality in Health Care Organizations. Journal Of Health Communication, 15(sup2), 102-115.

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