Patient-Physician Communication Is Key to Improving Health Literacy

Primary Care Physicians Encourage Patients to Make Annual Physicals a Priority

DAYTON, Ohio (January 23, 2012) – For many, the goal to lead a healthier lifestyle is top of mind at the start of each new year, which often includes kicking off a new diet or workout regimen. While diet and exercise are excellent areas to improve upon, two aspects ignored by many are annual physicals and overall health literacy. Premier HealthNet is reminding individuals that annual physicals not only play a key role in the health care and illness and injury prevention processes, but also are a step in the right direction toward improving health literacy for patients.

Health literacy impacts all aspects of a person’s health care and is defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as the degree to which individuals are able to obtain and understand the information and services needed to make appropriate decisions regarding their health care. From the ability to understand a physician’s directions, consent forms and dosage instructions and knowing what questions to ask, to being able to communicate symptoms and health concerns accurately and effectively, health literacy impacts a person’s health care in a variety of ways. Health literacy is essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, managing chronic conditions and preventing potential health issues from developing.

“Yearly visits to a primary care physician are important because, inevitably, there are changes in a person’s health throughout the year which would shape the care that’s provided,” said Dr. Anoopa Hodges of Oakwood Primary Care. “A physical is the perfect time for patients to learn more about their own health care and understand what they can do in their everyday life to be healthier. Plus, that annual conversation goes a long way toward improving a patient’s health literacy.”

According to the Journal of Family Practice, annual physical exams reduce risks of potentially missed diagnoses. The purpose of these visits is to screen for diseases, assess risk of future medical problems, encourage a healthy lifestyle, update vaccinations and maintain a relationship with a doctor in case of an illness. These routine physical exams are a good way for patients to start the dialogue with their primary care physician. Depending on factors such as gender and age, physicians can tailor exams and screenings to more accurately treat each patient. For example, at approximately age 50, women may be screened for osteoporosis, while men may undergo prostate screenings. Patients who are forthcoming about their own medical history, as well as their family history, help arm their physicians with the information needed to provide the highest quality and most thorough care possible.

“It’s important for patients to know specific details about their own, as well as their family’s medical history, particularly first-degree relatives,” said Hodges. “People should not only know what medications they’re taking, but why they’re taking them, who in their family suffered from certain health conditions and when they were diagnosed.”

Even though it’s not essential, it’s a good idea to take notes with important medical information to a physical to ensure information shared with a physician is accurate and up-to-date, Hodges added.

Now, more than ever, patients have the opportunity to play a more active role in their health care. Many organizations offer free literature and tools that individuals can use to help them make decisions about their health care. For example, the Premier HealthNet website,, provides resources that help patients make sense of medical information, know the right questions to ask and the important information to share with their physicians.

“I like to have the time with my patients, at least once a year, to get to know them,” said Dr. Hodges. “I like to understand my patients’ views on health care and how their families, surroundings and interests have helped determine what they know and how they feel about their own health.”

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