|Health Information Accessibility and Availability and Its Impact on the Health Literacy of Hispanics Page 1 of 6|
|Written by Jennifer Stone|
According to the Encyclopedia of Spanish in the United States, as of 2008, there were 45 million Spanish-speakers in the United States, demonstrating that the United States has the second highest concentration of Spanish-speakers in the world (right after Mexico). By 2050, the United States is projected to take over the number one spot if trends continue as they are currently (Toca, 2008). There are also estimated to be 45.4 million Hispanics in the United States, of which 20 percent are monolingual Spanish speakers, 25 percent are monolingual English speakers, and 55 percent are to some degree bilingual (U.S. Census Bureau Detailed Table, 2008; Aguilar, 1998). While a large number of people in the United States are either Spanish-speakers and/or Hispanic, a relatively small amount of healthcare resources and information are available to them. Hispanics are also one of the most vulnerable populations when it comes to having poor health literacy.
In the report Healthy People 2010 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, health literacy was defined as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions” (2000). As its definition shows, health literacy means more than just being able to read health-related documents. The definition of health literacy also varies depending on the situation. Some aspects of health literacy include but are not limited to being able to find health information, being able to understand diagnoses, test results and treatment options, being able to decide on treatment options, being able to follow treatment instructions, and being able to effectively communicate questions and concerns with healthcare professionals. There are also cultural barriers, educational barriers, language barriers, and so much more that affects a person’s health literacy.
Hispanics are not only vulnerable to poor health literacy; they actually have the lowest health literacy among ethnic groups. In 2003, the National Assessment of Adult Literacy found that 41 percent of Hispanics had below basic levels of health literacy and that 65 percent of Hispanics had basic to below basic levels of health literacy. This assessment determined subject’s health literacy levels by evaluating if they could do real-world tasks with health information including medication information, insurance information, and preventative care information. In this test, the 65 percent who tested at basic to below basic could not even read the label on a prescription and determine when to take a medication. While as a whole 35 percent of the adult population of the United States (77 million adults) has health literacy levels that are basic to below basic (America’s Health Literacy, 2008), the large percentage of Hispanics with basic to below basic health literacy is quite disconcerting and in need of examination in order to find solutions.
Because of the prevalence of Hispanics in the United States, healthcare should be made much more accessible to them. The healthcare system should take into consideration both the culture and language of Hispanic patients. By understanding the accessibility and availability of health information, the health literacy of the Hispanic population, and the impact of poor health literacy on Hispanics, the healthcare system will better be able to understand what changes need to be made in order to improve the health literacy of Hispanics as well as the importance of these changes. Improving the health literacy of Hispanics can not only increase their access to healthcare but also the success of their treatments and therefore their health and quality of life here in the United States. While there are many different aspects that affect the health literacy of Hispanics, this study is only a small step towards understanding the accessibility and availability of health information resources in an effort to understand what is affecting the poor health literacy of Hispanics.
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