Good info equals good health

Published 8:39 pm Saturday, March 31, 2012

We’ve all seen the pamphlets on the wall in the doctor’s office, warning us of the dangers of hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, myocardial infarction and cerebrovascular accidents.

In most of the literature, though, those dangerous conditions are referred to simply as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack and stroke, respectively.

We also see educational literature extolling the virtues of mammograms, Pap smears and prostate exams, but most folks don’t realize just how important these tests are to early detection of cancer.

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Medical jargon is difficult or impossible to understand for most anyone without a medical degree, but everyone needs to take good care of his or her health. Being educated about how to do so is the first step on that journey.

But according to the American Medical Association, more than a third of American adults lack sufficient “health literacy” to effectively carry out prescribed medical treatments and take care of preventive health measures.

The problem not only affects the health of individuals, but also the national health care system’s bottom line — the economic consequences of limited health literacy are estimated to cost between $50 billion and $73 billion per year, the American Medical Association says.

Various studies cited by the association prove it — over a three-year period, Medicare enrollees considered adequately literate were less likely to be hospitalized and more likely to have their diabetes under control.

That’s why an Eastern Virginia Medical School program under way at Western Tidewater Free Clinic in Suffolk is so important.

Third-year medical students at EVMS have been helping to produce easier-to-read literature on common health problems with the help of clients at the free clinic.

Students present the medical literature to the clients, receive feedback on how easy it is to understand and then revise it accordingly. Once they go through the process several times, the literature is vetted by school officials and distributed to patients.

It is an important project that just may save someone’s life or help him have a better quality of life. EVMS, the free clinic and Obici Healthcare Foundation, which funded the project, deserve our thanks.