Healthcare is an important subject. Anyone who’s involved with medicine can attest to the fact that it’s quite literally a life saver. The quality of our life is often defined by seemingly small issues with our own health. But at the same time the public as a whole seems to have some serious gaps in their understanding of health and healthcare.
To begin, it’s important to remember that one really can’t blame people for a lack of health literacy. The culture as a whole simply doesn’t prepare most people to face the complexity of modern medicine. It’s often such a daunting subject that schools will only cover the most basic elements. Real medical literacy usually only enters one’s life if it’s related to a career choice. This can and does need to change. And those people who do have expertise with modern medicine should carefully consider the reasons why.
One of the most important reasons that consumers need to be taught the medical basics in plain terms is that it’s quite literally a life and death issue. Even medical professionals often forget that common ailments can become terminal if untreated. This wouldn’t be an issue of everyone went to the doctor on a regular basis. But most people just assume the best and try to ignore symptoms for as long as possible. And even if the condition is minor for one person, it may not be the case for everyone that individual passes it on to.
For example, consider the case of someone with a cold. They probably don’t think much of it and go about their day. During that time they’re not taking any precautions to block airflow when coughing or sneezing. Think about how often someone with a cold does either. Now imagine the general makeup of any random crowd of people. The average adult won’t have much problem dealing with a cold if they catch it. However, any average crowd will have a fair number of very young and very old people.
The very young will often have a hard time with colds. And elderly people often need to look at the common cold or flu as a nearly terminal condition. In a hypothetical situation like this people’s lives could be on the line simply because someone didn’t understand the importance of covering his mouth when he coughs.
Or consider dangers that the public is at least aware of. Cancer is one of the most feared conditions for the average person. But most people don’t know what symptoms might suggest cancer or when they should consider professional intervention. This is another case where a very small action could save lives. The survival rate of most cancers is tied into how soon they’re identified. For example, stage 4 skin cancer has a very low survival rate. But if someone goes to the doctor when the cancer is limited to little more than an odd looking mole their overall chances of survival are nearly certain.
There’s any number of other examples which could attest to one very basic point. A small amount of health literacy is all it takes to save a considerable number of lives. Anyone involved with healthcare should consider trying to engage the public as much as possible. This might involve official lectures or presentations. Or it could just be informal discussions with acquaintances. The form this discussion takes doesn’t matter. What does matter is that one puts some work into tailoring the discussion to the audience.
Using overly strict scientific definitions usually ends up with people tuning the whole conversation out. One needs to carefully match the information to the language used by the people around him. For example, it might be tempting to explain the earlier discussion about colds in terms of bacterial genetics.
But the average person has no need or desire to learn about the subject. What they do need to know is the danger colds can cause to the immunocompromised and how to safeguard against it.