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USM student Ashley Dougherty pens health literacy plea to Press Herald

Health literacy can be easier than it seems, USM student Ashley Dougherty wrote in a recent letter to the editor in the Portland Press Herald.

“It is important for both patients and health professionals to remember that there is usually a simpler way to describe something,” wrote Dougherty. “For instance, someone hearing about a diagnosis of hypertension may think that it means the patient is hyper or has high energy. Using plain language to describe hypertension will make it easier for everyone to understand that, in fact, hypertension means high blood pressure.”

Dougherty is a master of public health candidate within the Muskie School of Public Service. She implored caregivers to make sure they understand doctors and, whenever needed, ask questions.

“You are not a doctor and should not be expected to understand medical language,” she wrote. “Ask that your provider repeat and explain words you do not understand. This will leave less room for mistakes.”

The effort is worthwhile.

“Simply put, health literacy refers to how well a person understands health information – a diagnosis, a procedure and even numbers such as a person’s blood pressure or survival rate,” she wrote.