Monday, November 12, 2012

How medical diagnostic companies can help to improve health literacy

We are accustomed to having blood tests done when we go to our doctor because they provide important diagnostic clues about disease. Lab tests offer the doctor a window into your body and when the pathology laboratory translates your blood into a stream of numbers, units and acronyms, your doctor can analyse this data to make the right diagnosis. However, most lab reports don’t seem designed to provide you with any intelligible information whatsoever. The typical blood test report is an exercise in obfuscation, a document that needs to be interpreted by a physician. However, lab reports don’t have to be unintelligible. With some thought, the results can be displayed so that they are as informative to patients as they are to physicians. Patients need to be able to understand their blood test “numbers”, so they can translate this knowledge into action, and become participants in their own health.

Let’s look at blood sugar levels for example. Diabetics need to monitor blood sugar levels continuously, and every diabetic knows that better control means better health and lower medication costs. The blood sugar report should help the patient and his doctor manage the disease. However, rather than just providing a single blood sugar level number, it would be much more helpful to the patient if serial values were provided in the form of a graph, so the patient could clearly see how well he was controlling his sugar levels. The good news is that even though labs still don’t do this, clever websites such as SugarStats (@ allow patients to track their blood sugar levels free of cost. This is a valuable online diabetes management tool – and similar sites need to be developed to manage other chronic diseases as well.

HELP is organizing a conference on “ Putting Patients First Through Health Literacy  “. This will be on Sunday, 2nd December’12 at Nehru Center at 10.30a.m. to 1.p.m.  The website is

The conference will be followed by a health literacy workshop in the afternoon. Helen Osborne, President, Health Literacy, a world renowned  Consultant from US , will be delivering the keynote and conducting the workshop.  Her website is at

At this time, we will be releasing the book, Deciphering Medical Gobbledygook: Promoting Health Literacy to Put Patients First , authored by Dr Aniruddha Malpani and Juliette Siegfried. This is a section from that book

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