Health Literacy Month is a grassroots campaign aimed at promoting the importance of understandable health communication. Health Literacy Month is a time of international observance when hospitals, health centers, literacy programs, libraries, social service agencies, businesses, professional associations, government agencies, consumer alliances, and many other groups can work collaboratively to integrate and expand the mission of health literacy.
What is health literacy?
In 2004, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published a report titled “Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion” that stated that “nearly half of all American adults — 90 million people — have difficulty understanding and acting on health information.” The reasons affecting the way people receive and process information may vary — health information being inherently complex, health providers not necessarily being skilled communicators, among other factors. In any case, difficulty in reading, understanding, and acting on health information has a direct impact on health outcomes and costs.
There are different definitions for Health Literacy, but Helen Osborne, president of Health Literacy Consulting and founder of this annual, worldwide, awareness-raising event, says “Health literacy is a shared responsibility between patients (or anyone of the receiving end of health communication, including the lay public) and providers (or anyone on the giving end, including agencies that provide health information). Each must communicate in ways that the other can understand.”
Health Literacy Month is a time of observance when hospitals, health centers, literacy programs, libraries, social service agencies, businesses, professional associations, government agencies, consumer alliances, and many other groups can work collaboratively to draw attention to, and develop local capacity for, addressing this important issue.
What role do medical translation and interpreting play?
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many residents of the United States have called attention to the fact that government websites lack adequate translated versions. The increase of diversity among country residents makes it vital for information to be translated into multiple languages. Having this information only in one language, such as English, can only benefit those fluent in this language and not the public as a whole. Making information accessible is key to public awareness of health issues and their prevention.
Healthcare interpreters help avoid negative health outcomes through their professional intervention, in person or via Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) or Over-the-Phone Interpreting (OPI). That is because whenever there is a language barrier in a Healthcare setting (hospitals, clinics, private practice, urgent care, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, home health care, etc.), errors and miscommunication can occur, threatening the patient’s health and well-being.
Patients bring a wide range of learning needs to the healthcare experience. Basic literacy skills, language, age, disability, cultural context, and emotional responses can all affect the way people receive and process information. Providing understandable and accessible health information is a crucial part of Healthcare services, which means that healthcare translations and interpreting should be culturally and linguistically accurate as well as easy to read and understand. Taking into account that culturally diverse individuals with limited literacy and limited English proficiency (LEP) are among the most vulnerable patients, recognizing and bridging cultural differences can increase communication effectiveness between providers and patients, and help the latter make informed decisions.
Or as the Health Literacy Month encourages us to do: “Finding the right words for a better health”
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