The Rise in Health Literacy

Once upon a time the pronouncements of health professionals were treated as absolute. We attended their clinics and surgeries, described our symptoms and took whatever treatment was prescribed. Whilst in some ways unquestioning faith may have been easier for the health practitioners, it also meant that the level of health knowledge within the general population was fairly poor.

The result of this was that many diseases went undiagnosed until it was too late and ‘old wives tales’ were as likely as not to determine health levels in some districts. What was needed was a good dose of education; a way of helping the general population to be better informed about health issues.

Fast forward to the internet generation and we are all far more likely to be health aware. We can look up symptoms, check healthy diets and delve into treatment options for illnesses. In fact the only challenge facing us nowadays is to distinguish between the reputable sites and those which rely rather more on rumour and gossip than is good for us. Oh yes and having the strength of mind to work through the list of diseases associated with symptoms and be realistic rather than just plumping for the one at the top of the page or which looks most alarming. But in general being more aware of the course of illness and disease helps us to work with health professionals in designing a treatment plan which is appropriate for us.

And surfing our symptoms is not confined to the young. The rise of the silver surfer has resulted in the elderly also being more aware of what treatments are better for them. So much so that a recent BBC report revealed that regular internet use in older people was associated with good health literacy. In other words, the more familiar we are with surfing the more likely we are to research symptoms, ask for help in a timely manner, and engage with treatment.

But our increasing familiarity with the internet and associated technologies also has other benefits for health practitioners. Those who are used to surfing the web are more likely to accept time saving options such as online booking allied with pre-payment by card. This not only saves health practitioners time, it also is more likely to result in patients who show up for treatments. Additional reassurance can be gained by adding a SMS text reminder to the online booking system, prompting patients to attend appointments or to cancel in time for the slot to be refilled.

Linking in a pre-payment by card module to the booking system also enables practices to easily take a cancellation fee in the event of no-shows, bringing the added benefit of smoothing out cash flow. There are those who say that the ability to look up symptoms online can result in a generation of hypochondriacs but there have always been those who take their symptoms too seriously. What internet surfing does do is help practitioners and patients to work together to create the optimum solution and that can only be good for the health of the nation.