Improving health literacy will decrease hospital readmissions, costs

A relentless problem plaguing the U.S. healthcare system is Americans' poor health literacy. But under health reform, measures to improve patients' ability to obtain, understand and use health information are expected decrease costly hospital readmissions and complications, reports the Washington Post.

According to a 2006 study by the U.S. Department of Education, only 36 percent of adults have a basic or below-basic understanding of health material. So, 90 million Americans understand health information at a fifth-grade level or lower. And just over half have intermediate comprehension. Such stats are alarming as low health literacy costs the U.S. economy as much as $238 billion each year, reports the Post.

However, reform legislation is attempting to control unruly medical costs by making it easier for patients with limited health literacy skills to understand results from health screenings and tests for cancer, how to take prescription drugs and make follow-up appointments.

What's more, the Joint Commission--which accredits hospitals--started requiring earlier this year that hospitals use plain-language materials and include graphics. They also must "communicate in a manner that meets the patient's oral and written communication needs," notes the Post.

Industry experts and government officials hope that, in addition to reducing readmission rates costs, simple and clear communication will ease the flood of 32 million currently uninsured Americans who will get coverage in 2014 under the reform.

For more:
- read the Washington Post article