Task Force on Health Literacy

Health information can be very technical and hard to understand. Most of us have had trouble understanding our doctor’s instructions at one time or another. Studies have shown 40-80% of the medical information patients receive is forgotten immediately. Nearly half of the information they do remember is incorrect. Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain and understand the basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. The NCIOM Task Force on Health Literacy studied ways to improve the health literacy of North Carolinians.
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Thomas J. Bacon, DrPH
Executive Associate Dean and Director NC Area Health Education Centers Program
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine
L. Allen Dobson, MD, FAAFP
Assistant Secretary for Health Policy and Medical Assistance
NC Department of Health and Human Services
Task Force on Health Literacy

North Carolina has a high percentage of individuals with low literacy levels. This raises significant health implications, as individuals with lower literacy skills are also more likely to have lower health literacy abilities. Health literacy is related to a person's ability to read, understand oral communications, communicate with health providers, use numbers and math skills in daily life, and have a basic understanding of the health system. Low health literacy is associated with poor understanding of written or spoken medical advice and adverse health outcomes. Studies suggest that people with low health literacy are less likely to take their medications as prescribed or follow treatment protocols, less able to manage their chronic conditions, and more frequently hospitalized. Health literacy problems are particularly acute among racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, people with lower educational achievements or cognitive impairments, and low income individuals

The Chronic Diseases & Injury Section of the NC Division of Public Health, NC Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) asked the NC Institute of Medicine (NCIOM) to convene a task force to study this problem. The task force was a collaborative effort between the NC Institute of Medicine, the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS), and the Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) program. While North Carolina faces many challenges in the area of health literacy, the state has strengths which can make us a national leader in addressing these problems. The goal of the task force was to study the problem and develop workable solutions to ensure that the healthcare needs of people with low health literacy skills are met.