Health literacy affects everyone. Imagine you are trying to order food in a foreign country and you don’t speak the language. Just like learning a foreign language, understanding health information is a challenge -- one that everyone will face at least once in his or her lifetime. Health literacy, as defined by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) is “the degree to which individuals can obtain, process, and understand the basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” According to the most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy report, only 12% of adults in the U.S. are proficient in reading, understanding and acting upon medical information, and even these individuals struggle to understand complex health information at times. This critical gap has significant medical consequences for society.
“I’m sorry to tell you this, but you have an early-stage breast cancer.”
So began the conversation I had with many patients following a biopsy of a suspicious area found on a screening mammogram. Before coming to Healthwise, I was a cancer nurse navigator. I am also a breast cancer survivor. I have had this conversation from both sides of the phone call. It is a fine example of how nurses can, and should, be involved in shared decision making.