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18 June 2014

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Health advice too complicated for half of patients

Health advice given to patients by doctors is too complicated, risking serious conditions and emergency admissions, the Royal College of General Practitoners (RCGP) has warned. 

Research shows that 43% of adults in the UK are unable to fully understand information containing text such as hospital signs, health leaflet and guides, while one in three fail to understand numerical information given to them.

Poor levels of health literacy have been linked to poor physical and mental health and serious conditions such as heart failure and diabetes.

Health literacy means understanding how to take medication safely and effectively or considering the possible risks of particular treatment.

Chair of the RCGP, Dr Maureen Baker touched on the importance of considering people’s varying needs.

She said: “Too often, our healthcare environments fail to recognise the needs of people with different levels of understanding about their health, meaning that patients are failing to receive the right care at the right time.”

The study also showed gave an example of an individual who had planned to get a chest x-ray but was unable to find the department since the signs displayed “radiology”.

With 90% of patient contact taking place in GP surgeries for the NHS, GPs may hold the key to helping patients understand “complex information” according to Maureen Baker.

Varying levels of health literacy were also seen throughout the country in this study, with London being of the worse areas within the south of England.

Certain demographics and groups of people are particularly affected by low levels of health literacy, these being:

– Older individuals.

– Black and ethnic minorities.

– Lower income individuals.

Dr Baker said: “We know that low health literacy affects all areas of health and health care, which why we want to encourage GPs and the wider NHS to ensure they are communicating complex information in a clear and manageable way.”

Recommendations have been made to GPs and healthcare professionals to make their environments more literacy-friendly, for example making hospital signs more clear and improving information for patients.