Have you ever left your doctor’s office a little confused about what was said? If you don’t understand what is going on it is hard for you to have an active role in your treatment. It is important for you to understand your diabetes and what your doctor has advised you to do. Why is this important? To improve your health! The relationship between health literacy and good health has been shown in many different settings including diabetes care.

What is health literacy?

It is the ability to understand and act on medical and therapeutic instructions.

Have you received a prescription, been told how to take your insulin over the phone, read an article in a paper, shown up for a screening? You are likely to have understood part, most, none or all, depending on how clear the instructions were and your knowledge about what was said. More than one in 3 adults in the United States is felt to have low health literacy. Let’s lower that number!

How can I improve my health literacy?

Learn as much about diabetes as you can! Know what is important in your diabetes care.

Prepare for your doctor visit. Think about the issues that have come up since your last appointment with your doctor.

Write down your questions. It is easy to forget your own very important questions in the context of a face-to-face meeting and in the course of a clinic visit where many things can happen that demand your undivided attention.

And if an instruction is not clear, ask to have it explained again or in a different way.

Write instructions down or have them written so you have something to reference later. It is hard to remember all instructions, whether simple or complex instructions. Information may be new and or many changes or additions might be recommended.

If you cannot read, get instructions verbally and say them back to confirm that you both have the same plan.

If your treatment plan is changed by your doctor, changed from your plan, review why. There is usually a good reason, and discussing it is the key. Were there side effects? Was it hard to get the medication? Did it cost too much? Did your pill look different?

Do you recognize some of the strategies your doctor is using to improve understanding? Your doctor should:

Dr. Sandra Weber is Clinical Professor of Medicine at Greenville Hospital System University Medical Center. She serves as chief of the section of endocrinology and chair of continuing medical education. She is active in clinical practice, teaching and research, and loves the opportunity to care for people with diabetes.