How health-savvy are you?

Do you get a yearly flu shot? Do you know where to go for medical care when you come down with a nasty rash? Do you know how to explain to a doctor how you’re feeling and what you think you need?

If you answered “no” to any or all of those questions, you may need to boost your “health literacy” – you need to own your health.

U.S. health officials define health literacy as a person’s ability to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services so they can make smart medical decisions and receive the best care possible.

But only 12 percent of Americans have what experts call “proficient health literacy,” according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. Another 53 percent are only at an intermediate level, meaning they can read a prescription medicine label correctly. More than a third (35%) though, struggle to understand even basic medical instructions.

In most cases, a lack of health literacy isn’t due to a lack of information. Google any ailment and you’ll find a plethora of information. The challenge is discerning which information is trustworthy, if it’s relevant to you, and how you can use it.

Health care can be confusing, even for well-educated people. One study found that college students, even some pursuing health and medical professions, lacked the skills to find health information online.

Poor health literacy may also place an extra burden on emergency room doctors. Recent research by scientists in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Florida, Gainesville, found that low health literacy is linked with preventable ER visits. The study, published in Academic Emergency Medicine, found that patients with limited health literacy are less inclined to access high-quality outpatient care compared to people with better health literacy.

Here are a few ways to start ratcheting up your health literacy:

-Wear a fitness or health-tracking device to learn more about your own personal health habits, such as your sleep and daily activity level.

-If you have a chronic illness, such as diabetes, consider downloading an app to help track and manage your blood sugar levels. Or if you’re a smoker, try an app to help you quit.

-If you don’t understand your doctor’s advice, stop him or her and ask for a repeat explanation. Ask your doctor to use “plain language”.

Join “All of Us”, research program, a national research effort to gather data from one million or more people living in the United States. Vibrent Health is a partner with the National Institutes of Health in this program aimed at speeding up research to help improve the health of Americans.

-Only use reputable sources for medical advice, such as the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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