Health Literacy – Focussing on holistic health
The term ‘health literacy’ refers to the cognitive and social skills that affect people’s willingness and capacity to access, comprehend, and apply knowledge to maintain good health. It is a foundational element that promotes learning and management. This includes health, nutrition, and illnesses; enhances self-efficacy; supports survival; and introduces an optimistic outlook, which leads to happiness, fulfilment, and higher self-esteem.
Having access to health information allows a person to make a well-informed, educated, and timely decision regarding one’s health and well-being, with the help of a healthcare professional. Health literacy lays the foundation of holistic well-being or the dynamic concept of positive health, which focuses not only on the absence of physical illness, disease, or infirmity but also on mental health. It includes mental functions and perceptions, spiritual dimensions, quality of life, social and societal participation, and daily functioning.
In light of this, having a high level of health literacy is imperative to making better use of healthcare opportunities and resources. Therefore, a patient’s ability to manage complicated illnesses and take care of themselves is directly correlated with their level of health literacy.
Health Literacy: The Relevance
The lack of ability to process and understand health information has been linked to higher mortality rates. Moreover, low health literacy has been associated with higher costs and worse outcomes as a result of excessive use of emergency services and sparse use of preventive services. Patients with a higher risk of dying also spend more time in hospitals. Adverse drug reactions due to overmedication or self-medication without prescription due to misinformation are also added to the side effects of this dismal ‘health literacy story’. The lack of health literacy is also associated with delays in seeking medical attention, lower immunisation rates among children, a higher prevalence of STDs among young people, and the inability of the elderly to comprehend and take prescribed medication.
The India Health Literacy Story
The majority of adults in India have poor health literacy. There are different reasons for this. One of the major reasons is that people believe in unfounded myths about diet and exercise. They are unaware of the warning signs of diseases, and are misinformed about how the body works and how to use medications. Along with India’s booming population, the lack of health literacy also puts our economic stability at risk because the cost of patient care is rising. In addition to widespread ignorance, an unhealthy lifestyle, and a lack of access to knowledge also contribute to frequent hospital visits. The fact that patients with terminal illnesses, in particular, have unrealistic expectations due to low health literacy should be highlighted. Therefore, it may be the root cause of numerous deaths brought on by ignorance.
In India’s battle against health issues, promoting health literacy at all levels is essential. Improved understanding and communication could help in overcoming problems like hunger, open defecation, and poor hygiene practices, particularly in rural India. In contrast to the general population, neglected tribals tend to suffer from more severe and enduring illnesses. In addition to raising awareness among this underprivileged group, the need for medical facilities with staff that can treat patients with compassion or indifference also exists.
Swastha Bharat: The Way Forward
To attain the goal of an all-inclusive health-literate India, a multi-level approach must be designed and implemented. This means that apart from developing patient-doctor partnership, the concept of health literacy must be embedded at the ground level. For this, the concept should be included in the school curriculum under their education program. Also, this needs to be prioritised by government policy and programs with increased expenditure on healthcare awareness and infrastructure. Health literacy must drive youth engagement, mobilise communities, create a strong individual-doctor/healthcare professional-community-government network, and encourage participatory and representative decision-making. Additionally, the state governments must be compelled to devote time and resources to improving communication in order to inspire local support for the creation of a healthier society.
According to the Universal Precaution Approach to health literacy, health-related information should work to make the office environment and healthcare system easier to navigate. It is also important to simplify communication with and confirm comprehension for all patients. This will ultimately create a supportive and peaceful environment for the patients to improve. Patients should also communicate with their physicians and be willing to get second opinions.
Having a thorough understanding of one’s health empowers one to make well-informed and timely decisions regarding their own and their loved ones’ health. In view of this, addressing the lack of health literacy among Indian citizens is desperately required. An improvement in this area will assist in the mediation of risk factors for health in adults of all ages and genders. In addition, due to the prevalence of diverse vernacular languages in India, there is a demand for qualified healthcare interpreters who can address patients’ concerns in the language they can understand. A proactive communication strategy may also be important, particularly when disseminating accurate health-related information.
For achieving this Herculean task of an all-inclusive health literate India, investment in, scalability, and sustainability of health literacy services are of utmost importance. Low health literacy poses a serious threat to the health and well-being of the Indian populace as well as the sustainability of the Indian healthcare system. Healthy people are the most prized assets in the development of a vibrant and prosperous nation.
A robust, balanced, and innovative healthcare system, therefore, would form a solid foundation for a developed nation. Healthcare education would define our enhanced strength, i.e., our human resources, and build a productive, self-sufficient Atmanirbhar Bharat.
By – Dr. Saumya Saluja.