Health literacy through telemedicine
Health literacy refers to the degree to which individuals are able to find, understand, and use information to guide their health-related decisions and actions. (Photo: Pexels)

HOW much do you know about your health? The concept of health literacy refers to the degree to which individuals are able to find, understand, and use information to guide their health-related decisions and actions.

An influence on all areas of health care and life, health literacy is one of the first things that our health-care workers learn. It impacts ourselves, our families, our communities, and our environments. Therefore, being health literate is not solely the responsibility of our health-care system and public officials. As individuals, being health literate can make a world of a difference as we aim to live healthy, long lives.

On a personal level, health literacy can be understood as the ability to understand what your doctor or health-care provider is communicating to you about your illness. According to official data, approximately 1,845,296 Jamaicans can read and write, meaning approximately 88.6 per cent of the population is literate. Literacy rates complement health literacy rates directly. If you are unable to read and write it is likely you may not have a high health literacy. Jamaica's lower literacy rate likely means there is a low health literacy rate, even though this number has not been precisely documented.

There are several other socio-economic factors which affect health literacy rates, including:

● low income

● lack of formal education

● age (the elderly are less likely to have high health literacy rates)

● health (those who are unwell may have lower levels of health literacy rates)

Good health literacy keeps you on track with what type of check-ups you may need for your age (for example Pap smears, mammograms, prostate checks); how to manage your illness; and the effect of your medications on your daily life, just to name a few. Your health-care providers are important in helping you become more health literate and communicating your health status to you in ways that you should understand.

Being able to answer the following questions may determine how health literate you are:

•What condition do I have, if any?

•Do I understand what's happening in my body to develop the condition I have?

• How do I treat the conditions I have?

• What medications can I or can't I take? What are the possible side effects of these medications?

•How do I monitor my illness?

•How often should I visit the doctor?

• How can my day-to-day life practices help my illness?

While you can read books, talk to knowledgeable people and search the Internet, telemedicine serves as a useful resource in creating a means of instant communication between you and your health-care providers to help you understand your health and stay healthy to the best of your ability.

How telemedicine can support health literacy

•Reducing the need to travel. This allows those living in remote areas, those who have mobility issues, and those who have hectic schedules to still be able to reach out to their doctors through telemedicine to address any questions or concerns that they may have about their illnesses, medications, among others.

Accessibility Options. Speaking to a doctor online while taking advantage of accessibility options on devices, such as reading selective text (great for blind patients) and using charts, videos, graphics, and other visual aids (great for younger patients and visual learners), are two great ways that accessing health-care online can support patients in accessing information in a way that they will receive and understand well.

•Provides a Safe Environment. Medical offices may be a bit intimidating for some people. Telemedicine allows you to speak to your provider remotely through call, text, or video call wherever you are most comfortable. Platforms, such as MDLink, will enable you to be at home, in your car, or wherever while being able to chat with your doctor and learn about your illness and treatment. It's essential that you are in optimum conditions to learn and understand your health.

A healthy population is one that understands its health. Understanding our health includes understanding the many resources readily available to us to be educated. In a technological world, resources, such as telemedicine, fit the mould for encouraging and facilitating a Jamaican population knowledgeable and prepared to tackle illness and disease to live a healthy, long life.

Dr Ché Bowen, a digital health entrepreneur and family physician, is the CEO & founder of MDLink, a digital health company that provides telemedicine options. Check out the company's website at www.theMDLink.com. You can also contact him at drchebowen@themdlink.com.

Dr Ché Bowen

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