Friday, March 21, 2014

Do Consumers Understand Their Health Terms? New Health Literacy Innovations' Survey Suggests

When it comes to understanding basic health information, many Americans do not understand simple terms, even some of America's biggest chronic conditions, so says a new survey from Health Literacy Innovations (HLI), a company that creates tools to eliminate confusion from low health literacy.

Using Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk), a crowdsourcing Internet site, HLI asked 1,000 respondents to define 21 health terms. Some of the respondents offered correct definitions for some of the terms, yet many did not know what these terms meant or gave incorrect answers.

When asked to define "hypertension," 53.7% of those surveyed defined it as "high blood pressure." Yet, 12% "did not know" and another 9.8% defined hypertension as high blood sugar, a potentially dangerous wrong description, especially in a medical emergency. 

Other findings include:

  • 59.2% defined melanoma as "skin cancer;" 15% defined it as "cancer" 
  • 11.3% "did not know"

Myocardial Infarction 
  • 64.5% defined "acute myocardial infarction" as "heart attack" 
  • 8.3% "did not know" 
  • 2.4% defined it as a "body part"

  • 59.4% defined "hyperglycemia" as "high blood sugar" 
  • 13% "did not know" 
  • 7% defined it as "diabetes"


  • 44.7% defined edema as "swelling of a body part due to fluid retention" 
  • 29.7% "did not know" 
  • 24% defined it as a "body part"


  • 64.9% defined benign as "not very harmful" 
  • 16.4% "did not know" 
  • 13.5% defined it as "very severe"

Other consumer responses included:
  • Bilateral: 16.9% "did not know"; 2.3% defined it as an "Illness" 
  • Analgesic: 24.5% "did not know" 
  • Angina: 28.9% "did not know"; 3% defined it as a "body part" 
  • Transdermal: 12.2% "did not know"; 8% said it was "skin issue"

"Given the complexity of the health care environment, it’s no surprise that many consumers are confused about simple health terms," says HLI's Chief Content Director Aracely Rosales. "Having good health literacy -- understanding basic health information, and how to read, act on, and follow information -- is crucial for America’s consumers, especially those new to health care via the Affordable Care Act. HLI’s Health Literacy Advisor, a comprehensive health literacy software tool, can help health care providers to explain simple health terms while creating industry standardization.

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