Last week we talked about health literacy which is a person’s ability to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.  But health literacy is more than just understanding words.  Health literacy also includes numeracy, which is the ability to understand numbers.

Number MagnetsI am sure we all agree, numbers play a significant role in the healthcare industry. Numbers and math skills are needed for tasks such as measuring medication and calculating portion size.  For example, numeracy skills are a critical part of daily management for many patients with diabetes. These patients need to understand numbers so they can know the nutrition content of foods, portion sizes, blood glucose numbers and ranges, and the correct dosages of pills or injections.

Additionally, numbers are everywhere when you are looking at health insurance benefits.  Understanding deductibles, copays, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket maximums, can be very confusing for patients, employees, and consumers.  Add on top of that the numbers associated with diagnosis codes, procedure codes, and insurer EOB remark codes.

Unfortunately, almost half of the adult population of the United States has difficulty with simple numeric tasks.  As such, it is important when communicating information referencing numbers or a measurement that we do so in a way that is easy to understand. Some tips include:

  • Know your audience
  • Use pictures to communicate numeric issues
  • Avoid using decimals when communicating, either written or oral
  • Consider the patient’s culture and language.  Remember, “once daily” may mean eleven daily to someone whose primary language is Spanish.  Big difference.