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Are you sometimes confused by written medical instructions?

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Now, imagine what it would be like if you were sick, scared and


had only third grade reading skills. Your doctor tells you, "You've


got to follow these instructions exactly, or you could die."





About 200 recent studies have shown the reading difficulty of


most health related materials FAR exceeds the average reading


abilities of the American adult. One of the biggest silent health


problems today is the gap between health materials and reading


skills.





In the United States, the average reading level is eighth grade.


In 1992, the Educational Testing Service determined that half


U.S. adults read at between first and eight grade level. That is


about 148 million people. It gets worse. One quarter of Americans


read BELOW FOURTH GRADE level, meaning 74 million people would


struggle with even the simplest, most well written health


materials.





Does it matter? Do you remember the anthrax scare, when someone


was putting deadly white powder into our mail system?





During that terrorist scare, the U.S. post office mailed millions


of post cards to Americans. The post cards told people how to


protect themselves from the deadly infection. They gave


instructions on how to handle and report suspicious mail. These


post cards were written at between ninth and eleventh grade


reading level.





More than half the people who got that mailing could not read it


well enough to protect themselves and others. Does it matter? Do


148 million people matter? Will it matter the next time the


terrorists strike?





Do you remember the mailing the Surgeon General sent out


explaining how to avoid contracting HIV? He made every effort to


see that it was written in clear, simple language. He got


criticism for just how plain talking it was in places. A later


evaluation of that document showed that it was written at between


seventh and ninth grade level. Half the people receiving it read


at a level BELOW what was required to read it. No wonder the


infection keeps spreading.





Think about it. For millions of people, the problem is not just


the tiny print on prescription bottles. The problem is the words


themselves. What does "take on an empty stomach" mean exactly?


When should you "take four times a day"? Perhaps your doctor


explained to you at the office. Do you remember what the doctor


said a week later?





Have you ever read the instructions for testing and assessing


blood sugar levels? Have you ever tried to fill out a Medicare


form? Do you struggle with letters from your health insurance


provider?





Only 45% of asthmatics with literacy problems knew that they


should stay away from things they are allergic to even if they


WERE taking asthma medication. 89% of the people reading at high


school level were clear about the same information. It's not a


matter of intelligence. It's a matter of a missing skill which


well-educated health providers presume is present in their


readers when they sit down to write.





There are two parts to the problem: the writer and the reader.


Recently, the public health community has begun efforts to raise


awareness. They are alerting the medical providers to the impact


of health literacy issues. Some fledgling efforts are underway to


provide clearer, simpler materials for the public. People are


finding alternatives to reading for presenting the same


information.





There is a long way to go. Sign up now with your local literacy


program as a volunteer.





Drop in on your elderly neighbor and help her learn to read the


specialized health material so critical in her life. (You may


want to ask her about her life first, to save embarrassment when


you learn you're talking to a retired English teacher). Start


with all those ridiculously obscure materials her doctor sent


home with her about glaucoma. You can go on to that Medicare form


she needs to send in tomorrow.





Do you want to know what eighth grade reading level is? You just


read 700 words of it. 74 million Americans reading at below


fourth grade level could have found it too hard for them to


understand.





The information contained in this article is for educational purposes


only and is not intended to medically diagnose, treat or cure any


disease. Consult a health care practitioner before beginning any


health care program.










About the author:


Emily Clark is editor at Lifestyle Health News and Medical Health News
where you can find the most up-to-date advice and information on
many medical, health and lifestyle topics.


Article Source: Messaggiamo.Com





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