The Health Literacy Paradox

Connections between this course and others not only apply to previous undergrad course topics but to courses I have been taking alongside KM this semester as well. In particular, my consumer health information course has given way to several interesting connections to knowledge management. Much of the course has been devoted to the consumer health movement including the various strategies implemented to provide consumers with a more complete understanding of their own health. Throughout the course several reflective opportunities arose where I was able to see how consumer health and knowledge management intersect, especially with regards to health literacy.

The consumer health information movement has upheld a clear and steadfast motivation over its vast history. The goal seems simple enough, to bridge the gap between patient and physician by offering patients accessible information in order to better know, understand, and maintain their physical, mental, and emotional health. For many individuals, including myself, constituting a higher awareness and overall understanding of someone’s personal health and well being does not arise out of simple curiosity. The motivation usually involves a crisis.

In the midst of a consumer’s health crisis, they typically resort to surfing easily accessible answers online. However, over the last decade, in the midst of the information age, an interesting paradox has developed. The root of this paradox extends from the first introductions of the Internet and its abundant capabilities for information search and sharing. It was initially assumed that any person with access to the heralded “virtual highway” would be able to navigate the system in order to yield their own personal benefit. However, the Internet has instead ushered an era of information overload, especially in regards to consumer health. More than ever before society is facing challenges to overcome health literacy barriers due to the overly abundant amount of information at a consumer’s fingertips at any given time.

These challenges to health literacy were especially relevant to childhood, specifically when I was diagnosed with asthma. I was in the fourth grade at the time and so I didn’t understand much about what was happening. I had never heard of asthma, and besides my mom and I, I was completely unaware that anyone had ever experience a similar crisis. All I knew was that I wasn’t able to walk across a room, or go up a single flight of stairs without losing my breath. Only after numerous trips and bi-weekly visits to the asthma doctor and allergist, did I truly began to understand that I was most definitely not alone with my condition. These experiences occurred well before the information age.

In today’s world, users attempting to search for relevant health information often times find the information either too technical or too vague, overly ambiguous, and not referenced by a reputable source. This is a dangerous trend, especially sine there are seemingly abundant ways to share knowledge effectively at our fingertips.  Both health care providers, and consumer alike have been facing barrier after barrier to consumer health knowledge management with seemingly no avail. Solutions, however, do exist. This is where the knowledge management community can step in and offer assistance.

With a combined effort, and the proper KM strategies in place, positive change can and will occur. Health literacy has been a struggle spanning generations of consumers, but can be subsided with the appropriate focus and outreach. A daunting but necessary task for current and future generations to solve.


Dana, B. (1977). Consumer Health Education. Proceedings of the Academy of Political     Science, 32(3), 182–192.

Duval, M. K., & Den Boer, J. (1980). Consumer Health Education. Proceedings of the         Academy of Political Science, 33(4), 168–181.


One comment

  1. hereticalpoetical · April 29, 2016

    This is an interesting perspective. In a way, this is customer knowledge management because we’ve moved to a more consumer-like view of healthcare.


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