Health literacy and its role in early detection of chronic Diseases: Dr Amit Verma

Dr Amit Verma, MD (Clinical Biochemistry/Cancer Medicine), is a renowned molecular oncologist and cancer geneticist. With over 15 years of experience. He completed a fellowship in Cancer Medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, USA. Besides his professional achievements, Dr Verma actively participates in cancer awareness and screening camps worldwide. Dr Amit Verma discussed different aspects of patient-doctor communication along with the importance of health literacy among patients in this interview.

When a patient explains to you about their health problems, what are the most common mistakes they make in their communication?

There are different types of patients that come up while we have to be in a consultation. Some of them clearly know what kind of symptoms they have, the potential diagnosis and the follow-up treatment. But, we also have patients who do not understand their diagnosis very well or how their journey is going to look after their diagnosis. These patients are under so much pressure and anxiety that it becomes difficult for them to explain it. Some get confused with the follow-up symptoms, others feel nothing is seeming right. So the initial phase of dealing with the diagnosis of the disease needs to be handled carefully. Patients also need assurance that we as doctors understand them and fight for their well-being.

What does health literacy mean to you, and why is it important in patient care?

Health literacy is nothing but an ability to understand and use health information in an individual capacity. It is to understand their medical conditions, available treatment options, and possible preventive options for the future. The knowledge can lead to early detection and better management of chronic diseases, ultimately improving overall health outcomes. Another Importance of knowing health literacy can be being an effective communicator. They know. understand and convey their problems in a mannerly fashion to get appropriate diagnoses and timely treatment.

If a patient is knowledgeable about the basics of their health condition, how helpful is it for the overall treatment procedure?

A patient who is knowledgeable about the basics of their health condition can be a great support in the overall treatment procedure. More meaningful and patient-centred questions can be focused on while making sure the patient understands the integrity of the treatment and the associated effects. When the patients are well aware of their medical conditions, they are more particular about following up the schedule, taking notes on things to avoid and overall self-management becomes easy, which is beneficial in taking better treatment care.

How much can medical misinformation impact treatment procedures?

When a patient falls prey to misleading information, they may delay seeking the needed medical attention at the right time which leads to a delayed course of action and has a huge impact on the patient’s health. Some people tend to go for other alternatives in lieu of side effects, finance, mixed decision-making, etc. Choosing these treatments over evidence-based medical interventions can result in ineffective outcomes and worsening health conditions. Medical misinformation can erode trust in healthcare providers and medical institutions. Patients who believe inaccurate information may be reluctant to follow medical advice, leading to strained doctor-patient relationships.

What are the most common myths or misinformation you see your patients falling prey to?

In this world of virtual experts like AI-enabled tools and social media as well as word of mouth, falling prey to medical misinformation becomes very easy for patients. Many people get to know about new advances in science. This seems very alarming in the first go but isn’t worth the hype. Like the recent propaganda of having burned food materials to cancer, it won’t say it doesn’t affect but again not in the way it was shown. So, it is necessary to understand that science too can have a lot of myths and not every piece of information is worth spreading.

What is your most common advice to patients to stay away from health misinformation online?

I advise my patients to discuss the available information from medical professionals before jumping to any conclusion. This will help them to achieve the desired health outcomes.

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