Better ‘Health Literacy’ Is Essential to Managing Heart Disease


Health literacy is key to preventing and managing heart disease-yet few patients have all the knowledge they need. Health literacy refers not only to your ability to read and understand medical information, but also to skills as vital as asking your doctor questions about your care, understanding test results, managing your insurance plan, and doing the basic math needed to take your medication properly.

Studies show that when people lack these skills, they are less likely to get their blood pressure under control, have more difficulty quitting smoking, and are more likely to develop diabetes complications, among other consequences. It’s estimated that only 12 percent of Americans have the health literacy needed to navigate our complex health system, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). An AHA statement published in 2018 in Circulation called on healthcare providers to better communicate with heart patients.

Here are a few steps you can take to make sure your care is optimal:

  • Bring all your medications with you to your next doctor’s visit and discuss whether you are taking them properly.
  • Make sure you understand why you’re taking all your medications, or why any medication change has been made. When you are clear about the rationale behind a treatment, you’re more likely to stick with it.
  • If you don’t understand a diagnosis, test result, or any other information your doctor has given, don’t hesitate to ask questions.