Health literacy skills -- which describe a person's ability to obtain and use health information to make appropriate health care decisions -- include weighing the risks and benefits of different treatments, knowing how to calculate health insurance costs, and being able to fill out complex medical forms.
People with poor health literacy skills may have worse health care outcomes and face an increased risk of medical errors.
A 2003 survey found that:
- 12 percent of American adults had proficient health literacy skills.
- 53 percent had intermediate skills, such as being able to read instructions on a prescription label and determine the right time to take medication.
- 22 percent had basic skills, such as being able to read a pamphlet and understand two reasons why a disease test might be appropriate despite a lack of symptoms.
- 14 percent had below-basic skills, which means they could accomplish only simple tasks such as understanding a set of short instructions or identifying what's permissible to drink before a medical test.
New Guidelines Urge Careful Monitoring of Heart Device Patients
People with implanted pacemakers, defibrillators and other devices to regulate heartbeat need to be monitored carefully after the devices begin working, a team of international experts recommended Wednesday.
Almost 2 million people across the globe have had the devices implanted, the Associated Press reported.
While much of the attention so far has been directed to who should get the devices and whether insurance companies would pay for them, the wire service said, experts in San Francisco at a meeting of the Heart Rhythm Society unveiled new guidelines designed to provide follow-up care for people who already have them.
The guidelines recommend:
- Making the doctor who implants the device responsible for follow-up care, including working with the patient's primary care doctor if the patient moves.
- Giving each patient an ID card, which would include information about emergency care and solving potential safety issues.
- Getting a checkup every three to 12 months.
- Urging the government to brand manufacturer recalls as "safety alerts," to avoid scaring patients into thinking they need immediate surgery to remove an affected product.
- Using wireless technology to monitor patients remotely from their homes.
Former Supreme Court Justice Pleas for Alzheimer's Research
Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to sit on the nation's high court, is urging Congress to help boost research on Alzheimer's disease.
O'Connor retired from the bench in 2005, when she and her spouse moved to an assisted care center in Phoenix, the Associated Press reported. "My beloved husband John suffers Alzheimer's," she told the Senate Special Committee on Aging. "He is not in very good shape at present."
O'Connor welcomed recently approved legislation to ban discrimination based on genetic testing results. "My own sons I have not wanted to go be tested ... out of fear they would be ineligible for insurance," she told the panel on Wednesday.
More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's, the AP reported, a number that's forecast to rise to 16 million by 2050. Some 10 million people are already caring for loved ones with the disease, the Alzheimer's Association estimates.
"I suspect that you will not hear from many of my fellow caregivers directly ... simply because they do not have the resources to take time away from their loves ones in order to come before you," O'Connor said in her prepared testimony.
"Our nation certainly is ready to get deadly serious about this deadly disease," she said.
More Americans Taking Drugs for Chronic Health Problems