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October is Health Literacy Month. That makes it a great time to tackle this important topic, starting with: What is health literacy? Health literacy measures how well you understand health content. For instance, can you read a medicine label? Follow what your doctor is saying? Fill out medical forms? These tasks all require a measure of health literacy.

If you struggle at times to understand health content, you’re not alone. About 9 out of 10 adults have limited health literacy. There are many reasons why. Health content is often full of unfamiliar words and medical jargon. The ideas may be complex. And English may not be your first language. But here are some simple tips you can try to help you get a handle on health content.

If a language barrier is giving you trouble, here are a few tips to try:

  • Find a doctor who speaks your native language.
  • Ask for a medically trained interpreter when you make your appointment.
  • Ask for printed materials in your native language.

If you find the information hard to understand, here are a few tips to try:

  • Ask the doctor to use “plain language” rather than medical jargon.
  • Ask for visual aids. Pictures may help make the concepts more clear.
  • Repeat any instructions back to your doctor to make sure you understood them.
  • Ask questions if there’s anything you don’t understand.

If you tend to forget health information, these tips might help:

  • Take notes when you speak with your doctor.
  • Bring a tape recorder to your office visit. You can review it when you get home.
  • Bring along your spouse, a family member, or a close friend. It’s great to have a second person to take notes, ask questions, and remember information.

If you feel timid or shy, here are some tips that might help you out.

  • Talk to a nurse. You may find it easier to ask questions or voice concerns.
  • Ask for a patient navigator. This is a health professional, community health worker, or patient liaison who can help guide you through the health care system.

These tips may help improve your health literacy. That may help you make better health decisions for you and your family. And that, in turn, may lead to better health outcomes.