A story on WKOW yesterday features Literacy Network students talking about the importance of health care literacy and the difficulty they face in navigating the health care system.
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MADISON (WKOW) -- It's hard enough to understand health care these days, with all the rising insurance costs and various reform plans. But imagine how difficult it is to understand health care, or even speak with a doctor to find out what's wrong with you, if you don't speak or understand English.
That's a problem workers at the Literacy Network in Madison see every day.
The network says literacy skills are the strongest predictor of a person's health status, more than age, income, educational level or ethnic group. Without the proper knowledge of how to communicate with the doctor, a person has a significantly greater health hazard.
When Candy Krueger feels sick, she has a number of questions for the doctor. The problem is, she can't always find the words to say to make her doctor understand her.
For people like Krueger who speak limited English, talking to the doctor can be tough.
"It makes me kind of nervous and confused," said Natchaya Nicholus. "I'm not sure what she's saying and I asked her two times already and I don't want to ask her again."
"A lot of times people feel intimidated, so they're afraid to ask too many questions of a doctor or nurse," said Jeff Burkhart, executive director of the Literacy Network.
The Literacy Network teaches classes on how to talk to your doctor. The class includes going over body parts, filling in basic forms, answering and asking questions and describing symptoms.
"The tutors will give me all the information I need," said Krueger. "Sometimes they will write all the questions of what I need to ask the doctor."
Jeff Burkhart says poor health literacy costs the Dane County health care system more than $433 million each year.
But health care can be confusing to everyone, which is why Burkhart's message is simple: ask questions.
"From the point that you walk in the front door to the point that you're dealing with a nurse or a doctor, ask the questions that you feel need to be answered so that you can advocate for yourself," said Burkhart.
The Literacy Network will host an event Saturday to talk about health literacy. The event will be held at Barnes and Noble West, 7433 Mineral Point Road, on Oct. 17 at 6:00 p.m.