The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reports that only 12% of American adults have proficient health literacy, ie, the skills to manage their own health care proficiently. Health literacy is defined as the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health care decisions, including weighing the risks and benefits of different treatments and knowing how to calculate health insurance costs. In addition to the 12% who were deemed proficient, a 2003 survey found that 53% of American adults had intermediate skills, such as being able to read instructions on a prescription label; 22% had basic skills, such as being able to read a pamphlet and understand why a test might be appropriate despite the lack of symptoms; and 14% had below basic skills.

These data are broken down by race,...

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