A new report shows Iowans’ inability to access or understand basic health information is costing the state’s economy up to $4.2 billion a year. Mary Ann Abrams is with Health Literacy Iowa – which commissioned the study.

“This is an analysis that was done at the national level and Iowa is one of only three states that’s had (an analysis) done for our own state, so we can help make an impact on the health of Iowans,” Abrams said. The Institute of Medicine estimates that nearly half of all American adults have difficulty understanding and using health information. Abrams says the impact of low health literacy is wide ranging, both in terms of cost and health outcomes.

“People are less likely to understand when, how and why to take their medicines. They’re also less likely to use preventive services like flu vaccine or pneumonia vaccine of to be screened for (breast) or colon cancer,” Abrams said. Health Literacy Iowa was formed last year to help patients find clear health information and encourage Iowans to ask questions of their health care providers.

“We work with health care providers and systems to help make changes that will result in lasting improvements in how we communicate,” Abrams said. “That means using plain language when we talk to patients. When we write information, including handouts, we want (those) to be as easy to read and understand as possible.” Abrams describes low health literacy as a “major source of economic inefficiency” in the State of Iowa.