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Mitigating the negative impact of limited health literacy

This article explores health professionals' expectations of patients abilities.
Doctor and patient disagree on sugar intake
© IMPACCT consortium

The video of health professionals illustrates how important it is to be aware of issues of health literacy, so that actions can be taken that can mitigate negative health consequences for patients. By knowing that health literacy can have a profound impact on a person’s health, actions are more likely to be taken by health professionals.

As the impact of limited health literacy is seen in poorer health outcomes we need to consider what we can do to mitigate the negative impact of limited health literacy on people’s health. If we take the conceptual understanding of health literacy into account that we explored earlier, i.e. with health literacy emerging from the interaction between an individuals’ abilities and the demands and expectations placed upon them. Then health professionals’ expectations of peoples’ abilities is worth exploring.

High expectations

Consider the position of someone with type-2 diabetes, who is expected to play a significant part in the self-management of their own condition. This requires the person with type-2 diabetes to have ongoing access to health professional support, so they need to be able to organise their appointments. They need an understanding that their diet plays a part in the development and management of type-2 diabetes and be able to apply this knowledge to manage their weight and blood glucose levels by eating a healthy diet. They also need to monitor their blood glucose levels and take their medication at the correct dose at the correct time. To successfully manage type-2 diabetes all of these demands must be met consistently over a period of time. These are high expectations of anyone’s capacity and abilities.

In order to undertake this activity you will need to access, understand, appraise and apply information about type-2 diabetes.

Skills and abilities

You have just read about some of the skills and abilities someone with type-2 diabetes needs to successfully manage their condition. However, which skills and abilities does a health professional need to support a person in undertaking these actions?

An example is that people with type-2 diabetes need a good knowledge of nutrition and to be able to read and interpret labels on food in order to eat a healthy diet. Health professionals will need a good knowledge of food labelling and be able to explain to patients in a way that they understand what to look out for. Food labelling is complicated and not consistently presented across food producers and manufacturers.

This is only one aspect of enabling people with type-2 diabetes to eat a healthy diet. Please discuss other aspects a health professional should bring to the table to support a person with type-2 diabetes.

© IMPACCT consortium
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Working with Patients with Limited Health Literacy

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