Adult Illiteracy Hampers Medical Efforts

April 2, 2003
Posted at: 8:33 p.m. CST

JONESBORO, Ark. -- Imagine the frustration of not being able to read or write. Now consider the medical dangers that could arise because of illiteracy. One Region 8 program hopes to improve healthcare through education.

"We asked (a patient) him if he knew what hypertension is he said that's when jump around, you're hyper. He had no idea that had anything to do with blood pressure."

This is an example of problems Dr. Joe Stallings faces when he says patients can't read or write. He says it's hard for them to understand instructions which makes medication and follow up procedures difficult. These are the patients he and his colleagues want to help.

Receiving proper health care is important to Stallings. So is understanding that health care. Sixteen separate health agencies met at Arkansas State University on Wednesday to discuss the problem. Collectively, they want to make sure their patients aren't only healthy, but educated. The group is coordinating with the Adult Education Center and Jonesboro school districts. Stallings says percentages of people that need help are high.

"Up to thirty percent of people have problems with health literacy even more up to fifty percent that can read and write don't understand what we're saying when we give instructions," Stallings said.

One of the conference's main focus points is to help health care providers identify patients that need assistance. Stallings says many are ashamed because they can't read or write.

"We want to try to cut through the embarrassment and help the people get to an education center that can help them," Stallings said.

Physicians and representatives say improving medical literacy is a step in the right direction. The month of April is literacy month and those interested in getting help with adult literacy courses can contact the Jonesboro Adult Education Center at 933-5896. Their hours are Monday through Thursday from 8am to 8pm, and Friday from 8am to 3pm.