In 2003 the U.S. Department of Education identified that 14% of the nation or 30 million people cannot read or understand basic information presented in short, simple statements. In another study 12% of the adults could not read or understand information in simple documents, including basic maps. Recently the issue of literacy has entered into our examination of healthcare. David Williams at Harvard observed that economics and social status are directly linked to "wellness". He further noted that poor health practices related to cognitive abilities. Dr. Williams, in his 2006 study, found that obesity, hypertension, depression and diabetes occurred at higher rates in individuals with reduced health literacy.
For individuals with cognitive problems related to disability or other conditions, the issue of health literacy as the cause of healthcare disparities is alarming.Could a person remember to take medication as directed, find a physician's office and follow the requirements of a diet or medication regime to battle an illness or chronic condition? Many of the forms that are used in healthcare and directions for treatment are written at the 8th grade level. Will individuals with reading or cognitive problems eventually be shunned by physicians and clinics as reimbursement moves towards as "pay for performance" model? How will this impact individuals living with disabilities who may have the "double whammy" of reduced health literacy and social status. While the focus is on improving the health of our nation, we are missing a large segment of the population who, for clear reasons, will fall through the crack unless changes occur to address health literacy problems.