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    October is Health Literacy Month

    by Ngozi Osuagwu, MD | October 18th, 2021

    October is Health Literacy Month

    My optometrist retired after COVID so I was forced to find a new optometrist. I used friends and the internet to help me. I finally found one and scheduled the appointment. When I arrived at the appointment, it was not the optometrist that I expected. I saw the one assigned and was prescribed new glasses. I picked up my glasses and tried the new ones for about four weeks and just felt something was not right. I went back to the facility and finally saw the optometrist I wanted to see initially and was given a new prescription. I asked what happened. Initially, I could not understand the explanation that was given. I continued to ask questions until I finally understood.

    Anytime I see an optometrist or ophthalmologist, I feel like they are speaking a foreign language. I know for some it may feel that way regardless of what health care provider you see.  October is Health Literacy Month. The purpose of this month is to promote the importance of understandable health information. I love Helen Osbourne’s definition of health literacy – Health literacy is a shared responsibility between patients (or any one of the receiving end of the health communication, including the lay public) and providers (or anyone on the giving end, including agencies that provide health information). Each must communicate in ways that the other can understand.

    One of my favorite tools to make sure that I get the information that I need when I go the physician’s office is Ask Me 3. These are three questions that must be answered before you leave the office.

    • What is my main problem?
    • What do I need to do?
    • Why is it important for me to do this?

    Since October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month here is an example of how Ask Me 3 works.

    What is my main problem? You are over 40 years old and you need your mammogram.

    What do I need to do? I need you to schedule an appointment to get your mammogram. If you have insurance, a mammogram is free. If you do not have insurance, you can take advantage of the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Detection Program (NBCCEDP). This program provides breast and cervical cancer screenings and diagnostic services to low-income, uninsured, and underinsured women across the United States.

    Why is it important for me to do this? A mammogram is a screening test for breast cancer, meaning it is a test that is used to find breast cancer before you have symptoms. We know that if we can find breast cancer early, we have a better chance of treating you and making sure that you will be cancer free after treatment.

    Please click here for additional information on other questions to ask your health care practitioner.

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    With her trademark wit and straightforward communication, Dr. Osuagwu continues to dole out valuable medical advice using the letter form and addressing women’s health conditions and issues in a method that was praised for its innovative approach in her earlier award-winning book, Letters to My Sisters: Plain Truths and Straightforward Advice from a Gynecologist. In this book, each letter is paired with reference sources and statistics about the condition that is the subject of the letter.

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    The book discusses common gynecological and women’s health issues in a series of witty and entertaining letters. These letters, all educational, offer suggestions on what approaches to take in tackling the medical problems that typically bring women to an ob/gynecologist. The letters are spiced with art, a poem and quotes. Although its emphasis is on gynecology and women’s health, it touches on some other medical issues that make women visit their doctors.

    The second half of the book briefly discusses the most common gynecological conditions and also provides an overview of sexually transmitted infections. A list of annotated websites dealing with the different topics in the book is provided for the reader who wants to pursue each subject in depth.

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