Poor health literacy among Latinos, especially in the realm of antibiotic therapy, may be linked to an increase in antimicrobial resistance among their population and poorer decision making regarding important health matters.
According to research from Columbia University School of Nursing, one in three Latino study participants had what was considered to be low health literacy, and having such, were more likely to misuse antibiotics and use them without a prescription. Misusing antibiotics—like taking them without really needing them—increases resistance, which can lead to antibiotics having no or low effect on an individual when they are indeed needed.
“Health literacy is the ability to understand health information and then act based on this understanding,” study author Ann-Margaret Dunn-Navarra, PhD, CPNP-BC, told VOXXI. “An individual’s health literacy level may be described as a dynamic process that includes the association of demographic, psychosocial and cultural variables that shape and guide health-related beliefs, behaviors and access to health care.”
Without proper health literacy, Latinos are often unaware, for example, of the dangers that accompany the nonprescription use of medications.
Dunn-Navarra explains health literacy is complex because although it is impacted by certain cognitive skills including literacy skills, it is not limited to such factors. Individual heath literacy levels are influenced by individual and cultural beliefs, family and friends, health status and experience with the health care system. Health related information via the internet also influences individual health literacy and health choices.
Latinos in the United States are particularly influenced by their level of health literacy due to language and cultural barriers which result in a self-treating mentality among the population. The issue is further complicated by the presence of unregulated health “bodegas” in many large cities where Latinos can have access to an often unlimited supply of inexpensive antibiotics.
Health literacy influences decision making
Not only does the indiscriminate use of antibiotics raise the risk for antimicrobial resistance among Latinos—and the U.S. population in general—it indicates a lack of understanding regarding health risks and medication usage. This, explain the researchers, is why health literacy is so important to proper medical care and access to quality care.
“Improved health literacy levels among Latinos may certainly increase their access to medical care,” Dunn-Navarra told VOXXI.
“Knowledge and beliefs are factors involved in health related decision making and behaviors, and access to medical care is a health related choice. Therefore if knowledge is increased on the importance of regular medical care and misconceptions are corrected, the health outcome of improved access to medical care is more likely to occur.”
She added, it is also equally important for healthcare providers to recognize cultural and language barriers may preclude access to medical care among Latinos, and culturally sensitive care is important to promote access to medical care and optimal health literacy.
“Health literacy is important to the Latino community and essentially to any community. Optimal health literacy is empowering for an individual because it entails active involvement in health care decision making,” stated Dunn-Navarra.
According to Navarra, the current health care system demands a high level of participation for any patient seeking care. Latinos with higher health literacy skills could be likened to individuals with more tools in their tool box to improve self-health and contribute to community health.