What You Don't Know Can Hurt You


Health care is complicated and the health care system can be confusing; many people have trouble understanding information about their health and health care options. Health literacy is about reading and understanding.


Unfamiliar words and stressful situations can lead to misunderstanding health care information. If you don’t understand the information, you cannot make choices that are correct for you. For example, how well you understand what your provider is telling you plays a role in how well:

  • You are able to take the right medicine at the right time.
  • A diabetic properly manages their condition.
  • A parent follows instructions for helping a child recover from surgery.

When we are sick or have been told we or our family member has a disease we often don’t fully understand. We can’t act on information about our health care or the health care system, and are more likely to be in poorer health. You may end up in the hospital more often, have fewer preventive services, be less able to manage a chronic condition, and spend more money than you have to.

Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and hospitals can all play a role in helping patients better understand and use health information. You too, can take steps to improve the outcomes of your health care.

Ask questions.

Then, make sure you get and understand the answers. If you don’t understand, ask the doctor or nurse for more information. Asking questions may not always be easy, but it can get you the information you need to take better care of yourself. It helps to make a list of questions you need answers to before you go.

Look at the information on your WINConnect Portal before you go.

Information you see there such as medications or lab results may be something you want to ask your provider about.

Repeat information back to your doctor or nurse.

After your doctor or nurse gives you directions, repeat those instructions in your own words. Simply say, “Let me see if I understand this.” This gives you a chance to clarify information. Studies show that doctors and patients often have very different ideas of what the patient is going to do after leaving the doctor’s office. For example, if a provider advises you to ‘take two’ Coumadin, it is really important to know if they mean 2 milligrams—or two pills. Repeating back can help avoid potentially serious mistakes.

Bring all your medicines to your next doctor’s visit.

Ask your doctor to go over all of your drugs and supplements, including vitamins and herbal medicines. More than one third of adults struggle to understand how to take their medicines. Reviewing your medicines can help you and your doctor. You may even discover some mistakes, such as two drugs that shouldn’t be taken together.

Have another adult with you.

This might be especially true when you expect to receive important information.

Let the doctor’s office know you need an interpreter if you don’t speak or understand English very well.

You have a right to an interpreter, at no cost to you. Even if you speak some English, tell the doctor’s office what language you prefer when you make an appointment.

If you have questions about your coverage or your network, call your Member Services representatives.

The healthcare system can be confusing and we can help you get the most from your healthcare dollar. We are here to help you and we always have the time.

You are ultimately responsible for your own health and the more you understand the better outcomes from your healthcare you will have. What you do know can help you, so, don’t hesitate to ask.