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An international study on the health literacy of the population shows that health literacy has a lot of influence on health and is the adjusting screw for cost explosions in the health care system.

The study involved 17 European countries, including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland and Germany. Germany was part of the analysis from 2019 to 2021 with the University of Bielefeld and the Hertie School Berlin, initiated by WHO and the Network for Population and Organizational Health Literacy Measurement (M-POHL).

According to this analysis, orientation in the individual health care systems is difficult and the confusion of health information is too great. Not only was general health literacy surveyed, but also other topics that included navigating the health care system, digital health literacy, communication literacy, and vaccination literacy. In doing so, analysts used new approaches and measurement tools to survey respondents between 2019 and 2021.

According to the study, respondents found navigating particularly difficult, with 70 percent experiencing major difficulties in this area. In this country, this is particularly noticeable because the German system works with delimited sectors and very many interfaces, explains Prof. Doris Schaeffer from the University of Bielefeld, who criticizes the complex and instance-rich system with sector formation and fragmentation. This in turn leads to breaks in care for the population in this country. Many Germans also find it particularly difficult to learn from health information and to draw the right conclusions to reflect on their own health behavior.

Schaeffer calls for a more user-friendly healthcare system with more promotion of health literacy. According to the study, 46 percent of the population in each country has insufficiently developed competence. Many people find it most difficult to assess health-related data in order to draw conclusions for the prevention of illnesses, especially mental illnesses.

The social inequality of people with low levels of education, low social status and low financial opportunities is a major factor in the lack of health literacy, the study also found. Similarly, the age of the subjects was also a determining factor. Although older people should have more health literacy because they are more often seriously ill, there are often gaps in knowledge here.

The experts‘ conclusion is that health literacy is a direct determinant of health and is directly related to high costs. In addition, health literacy must be promoted among the population. To this end, the health and education systems must become the focus of political attention.