Health Highlights: May 14, 2008

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Few U.S. Adults Proficient at Managing Health Care

Only 12 percent of the 228 million adults in the United States have the health literacy skills to manage their own health care proficiently, according to the latest News and Numbers report from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research.

Health literacy skills -- which describe a person's ability to obtain and use health information to make appropriate health care decisions -- include weighing the risks and benefits of different treatments, knowing how to calculate health insurance costs, and being able to fill out complex medical forms.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • Few U.S. Adults Proficient at Managing Health Care: Report
    • New Guidelines Urge Careful Monitoring of Heart Device Patients
    • Former Supreme Court Justice Pleas for Alzheimer's Research
    • More Americans Taking Drugs for Chronic Health Problems
    • Americans Overconfident About Their Food-Safety Abilities: Survey
    • New Fitness Test for U.S. Adults

People with poor health literacy skills may have worse health care outcomes and face an increased risk of medical errors.

A 2003 survey found that:

  • 12 percent of American adults had proficient health literacy skills.
  • 53 percent had intermediate skills, such as being able to read instructions on a prescription label and determine the right time to take medication.
  • 22 percent had basic skills, such as being able to read a pamphlet and understand two reasons why a disease test might be appropriate despite a lack of symptoms.
  • 14 percent had below-basic skills, which means they could accomplish only simple tasks such as understanding a set of short instructions or identifying what's permissible to drink before a medical test.

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New Guidelines Urge Careful Monitoring of Heart Device Patients

People with implanted pacemakers, defibrillators and other devices to regulate heartbeat need to be monitored carefully after the devices begin working, a team of international experts recommended Wednesday.

Almost 2 million people across the globe have had the devices implanted, the Associated Press reported.

While much of the attention so far has been directed to who should get the devices and whether insurance companies would pay for them, the wire service said, experts in San Francisco at a meeting of the Heart Rhythm Society unveiled new guidelines designed to provide follow-up care for people who already have them.

The guidelines recommend:

  • Making the doctor who implants the device responsible for follow-up care, including working with the patient's primary care doctor if the patient moves.
  • Giving each patient an ID card, which would include information about emergency care and solving potential safety issues.
  • Getting a checkup every three to 12 months.
  • Urging the government to brand manufacturer recalls as "safety alerts," to avoid scaring patients into thinking they need immediate surgery to remove an affected product.
  • Using wireless technology to monitor patients remotely from their homes.

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Former Supreme Court Justice Pleas for Alzheimer's Research

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to sit on the nation's high court, is urging Congress to help boost research on Alzheimer's disease.

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