Health Literacy Lacking in the US

April 9, 2004 -- Close to half of all adults in the US do not understand health information, according to a report issued by the Institute of Medicine. This lack of medical literacy compromises their ability to care for themselves and their families.

Quote: "Health literacy is fundamental to quality care." (Dr. David A. Kindig, chair of the Committee on Health Literacy, the Institute of Medicine)

Comment: The lack of medical literacy is not a new problem but it is a very serious one that can impair health and even be life-threatening.

Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.
Frederick Hecht, M.D.
Medical Editors,

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90 Million Americans are Burdened with Inadequate Health Literacy IOM Report Calls for National Effort to Improve Health Literacy

WASHINGTON -- Nearly half of all American adults - 90 million people - have difficulty understanding and using health information, and there is a higher rate of hospitalization and use of emergency services among patients with limited health literacy, says a new report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Limited health literacy may lead to billions of dollars in avoidable health care costs.

More than a measurement of reading skills, health literacy also includes writing, listening, speaking, arithmetic, and conceptual knowledge. Health literacy is defined as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic information and services needed to make appropriate decisions regarding their health.

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