Healthcare Literacy: We have a ways to go


If you are reading this post because you think I’m going to make a political statement on the rightness or wrongness of the Obama Healthcare Plan, let me keep you from wasting your time. I’m not.

However, I am going to tell a story that I believe demonstrates the public’s level of understanding, or better misunderstanding, of medical terminology. It also demonstrates the incredible amount of patience doctors and nurses have in order to be successful.

You may have seen this hilarious list circling the web today.

It reminded me of some of the stories that I used to hear years ago when I worked in the human resources office of a manufacturing plant. One in particular stuck with me as one of the craziest health issues ever.

A male employee came in the office one day to tell us that he would need to go on disability and short-term leave due to an upcoming surgery on his finger. I took his information and began filling out several forms. In the process, I asked some basic questions about his injury. Was it work related? Did it happen during his shift? How long did the doctor expect he would be off? Etc.

Turns out his injury was from a fishing accident in which he hooked himself in the hand while casting. He explained, “I didn’t go to the doctor because I didn’t think it was too bad. I just dumped some beer in it – alcohol, right? – and wrapped it in part of my shirt.”

Turns out this method of sterilization didn’t work as well as he hoped. The doctor told him he had developed an “ovarian cyst” on his finger. Confused, I asked him to repeat the diagnosis. “Yep, he said it’s an ovarian cyst and if I don’t get it removed, I might lose the finger all together!”

Yep, that’s what I thought he said. Wow. Everything turned out OK, and his hand healed just fine. After they removed the cyst. The ovarian cyst. From HIS finger.

Oh my. We expect the general public to be able to educate themselves on medical procedures and ailments enough to be able to choose the best healthcare plan for them and their families?

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