Friday, November 2, 2012

The Struggle to Grasp Health Information

By Sharon A. O'Brien, SC; RN, PG; BSW, RSW; CG 
Executive Vice-President of Policy & Education 
at Senior Watch 

You have just been given information on a medication, a diagnosis, or a necessary procedure and you do not have a clue what it means.  You are not alone!

A recent issue of the Canadian Nurse stated that “60% of adult Canadians lack the capacity to obtain, understand, and act upon health information and services and to make appropriate health decisions and maintain basic health”.  This is a scary statistic.  Then again, it could make us feel we are not alone as we walk out of the appointment in a fog!

Have you ever had a surgeon explain the eight things that could go wrong should you decide to go ahead with the surgery he/she is recommending?  Have you ever had a diagnosis elaborately explained along with the treatment options, but you tuned out when you heard the word “cancer”?    

It is critical to our overall health and our recovery that we understand what is happening to us. There is nothing wrong with requesting a slower, clearer, simplified explanation! 

What can we do. We can start by taking responsibility for our health.  We need to take a trusted friend with us to remind us of questions we wanted to ask and to take notes.  We need to advise the health professional of “invisible” disabilities; e.g., hearing problems.  We need to be honest and admit when we feel confused about the directions being given.  We can even ask to have a procedure or a medication be written down for us.

As consumers of the health system we must be active participants in service delivery.  We need to help those who are serving us to understand our need to grasp the information being given to us.  Our health providers care deeply and they depend on us to play our role in our journey towards wellness.

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