Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Health literacy focuses on empowering patients to engage in their care

Image of Medical personnel, wearing a mask, inserting an IV into a patient. Michelle Pribble, Naval Medical Center San Diego's (NMCSD) lead nuclear medicine technologist, administers an IV to a patient before a positron emission tomography (PET) scan in the hospital's Nuclear Medicine Department. Active communication between patient and provider is a cornerstone of health literacy. (Photo by Navy Seaman Luke Cunningham.)

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Helping patients and caregivers understand the information they receive from their health care team reduces potential miscommunication and can improve the patient care experience. Although October is officially Health Literacy Month, it's always important to make sure patients and their caregivers understand health care information so they can make informed decisions about their care.

A common misconception is that health literacy is only the patient’s or caregiver’s responsibility. It’s not, explained Julie Kinn, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist with the Defense Health Agency’s Connected Health Branch.

“It’s incumbent on the health care team to double-check that patients and their caregivers understand instructions, terminology, and important factors to help with decision-making,” she said.

Health literacy is the ability to understand health care information.

Care teams give a lot of information to patients and their caregivers, but if it’s difficult to understand, then it’s just wasting time for the beneficiaries and their providers, added Kinn. Health literacy covers how heath care teams share information with patients and their families, including instructions for how and when to take medication and how to manage symptoms. Implications can be far-reaching when patients or their families don’t understand their medical care, or when they seek preventive care, attempt to adopt healthy behaviors, complete insurance and medical forms, or manage chronic conditions, according to the Health Resources & Services Administration.  

“In more extreme examples, consider serious health care decisions,” said Kinn. “How can our patients and their families decide between options if the options are presented in a confusing way?”

In today’s busy health care environment, some providers may feel pressed for time, but patient-centered care requires health care professionals to take a more thoughtful approach. “Although internally we may feel a clock ticking, it’s important to demonstrate to patients and their families that we have time to answer their questions,” Kinn said.

Given what’s at stake, patients should not feel shy about understanding their own health care.

“Be assertive and take notes,” she said. “Although your health care team may be rushed, please ask when something is confusing or if a word is unfamiliar.”

Bottom line: All patients should feel empowered to take the time they need, in order to ensure they have the information to understand medical instructions given by their care team, and make informed decisions.

For patients willing to take the initiative to empower themselves with medical knowledge or information on their health, Kinn urges them to ask their doctor or nurse for specific recommendations on websites or resources instead of just searching online. “The Military Health System provides comprehensive information, but there are many other great resources online. Just make sure that it’s a trustworthy source written by experts,” she added.

“You are worth it!” Kinn emphasized.

You also may be interested in...

MHS Minute May 2021

Video
5/28/2021
MHS Minute May 2021

In this month's MHS Minute, the DHA's commitment to transforming military health continues. The DHA officially established the Tidewater market in SE Virginia, serving over 200,000 patients. The MHS is standing up 19 markets like Tidewater to allow healthcare providers to better meet the needs of their patients by improving coordination between facilities in the area.

Recommended Content:

Military Health System Transformation | Electronic Health Record: MHS GENESIS | Health Readiness | MHS GENESIS

MHS Minute September 2018

Video
9/21/2018
MHS Minute September 2018

Interested in hearing about some exciting events that took place around the Military Health System last month? Tune in to the MHS Minute to learn more!

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Patriot Warrior 2017 - Moulage

Video
10/5/2017
Patriot Warrior 2017 - Moulage

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Rose Jane Schoenwandt, 349th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, California, and Staff Sgt. Caleb Boles, 445th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, discuss the importance of moulage during Patriot Warrior.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

USNS Mercy: Deployable Medical Center

Video
4/11/2017
USNS Mercy: Deployable Medical Center

U.S. Navy Sailors and Military Sealift Command civilian mariners explain the mission of the USNS Mercy and its capabilities.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Access, Cost, Quality, and Safety

Trauma Innovations

Video
3/23/2017
Trauma Innovations

Hemorrhage is responsible for 91.5 percent of potentially survivable battlefield deaths. From 2001 to 2011, an estimated 24 percent of combat deaths occurred before patients reached a treatment facility; the major cause of death was blood loss. Battlefield trauma innovations like the occlusion balloon catheter and freeze-dried plasma will enhance the Joint Forces' current capabilities.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | French Freeze-Dried Plasma Use in the DOD

Air Force Nurse Key Asset to Army Medevac

Video
3/22/2017
Air Force Nurse Key Asset to Army Medevac

U.S. Air Force Maj. Sandra Nestor, tactical critical care evacuation team nurse, is assigned to the 3rd Platoon, C Company, 2-149 General Support Aviation Battalion Medevac. Medevac teams specialize in moving and treating U.S. and coalition forces who are injured and risk dying without immediate emergency care.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Ophthalmology Medical Readiness Training Exercise

Video
3/7/2017
Ophthalmology Medical Readiness Training Exercise

The Ophthalmology Medical Readiness Training Exercise (MEDRETE) team is comprised of 26 U.S. military personnel and several host nation physicians who have partnered together to train medical teams in preparation for deployment. During the MEDRETE, the teams are able to improve the eyesight of more than 250 Panamanian patients during the two-week training exercise. The goal is to provide medical care that benefits the people of Panama, while building relationships with the accompanying Panamanian medical professionals.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness |

Any clime and place: Sailors bring hospital knowledge to the field

Video
5/19/2016
Any clime and place: Sailors bring hospital knowledge to the field

Sailors with 2nd Medical Battalion got out of their comfort zone and conducted a week-long training exercise known as a Health Service Augmentation Program at Camp Lejeune, N.C., April 18-22, 2016.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Racing to save lives at Steel Knight

Video
12/28/2015
Racing to save lives at Steel Knight

Corpsmen and Marines rehearsed life-saving skills during Exercise Steel Knight’s mass casualty drill, Dec. 12, 2015. Steel Knight provides tough, realistic training for the Marines and sailors of 1st Marine Division.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness
Showing results 1 - 9 Page 1 of 1
Refine your search
Last Updated: July 09, 2021

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.