Making decisions for your health: Getting the info you need

Posted on Oct 26, 2016 in Guest blog, Health Literacy

Today we are sharing an excerpt from an article that appears on the FDA’s Consumer Updates page.


When your doctor prescribes a medication for your child, do you know what the correct dosage is or how to measure it?

Are you comfortable asking your doctor questions when you receive a lab report and don’t understand the results?

Do you understand how to use the information on the Nutrition Facts Label on food products when you shop at the grocery store? 

If you can answer “yes” to these questions, you might have high health literacy, says Jodi Duckhorn, a social scientist and Director of Risk Communications at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Duckhorn’s team is responsible for making sure that messages FDA sends out are understandable to their intended target audiences—a key component of health literacy.

How FDA promotes health literacy

Promoting health literacy is important to FDA which communicates complex science and health topics every day. And it’s a key part of the agency’s effort to help the public make better informed decisions about the use of FDA-regulated products. The agency aims to provide clear and accurate information to patients and to health care professionals in several ways.

For example, FDA strives to:

Use plain language for clear communications. FDA first identifies its audience. Then the agency sends communication materials with well-organized messages that use clear sentences and common words. This easy-to-understand language is especially important for popular FDA webpages, such as those that discuss seasonal flu and vaccines for children, and in FDA-approved patient package inserts (consumer-friendly summaries of patient information), instructions for use, and Medication Guides (paper handouts that come with many prescription medicines).

In addition, FDA uses Drug Safety Communications to let health care professionals and consumers know about newly observed potential risks of FDA-approved drugs and to offer advice on how these drugs may be best used in light of this new information. And when a drug or device is identified as unsafe, FDA informs consumers about market recalls and withdrawals.

Create special initiatives. Many FDA Offices and Centers use special initiatives to promote health literacy, says Duckhorn. For instance, FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research offers free online resources that teach you how to buy and use medicines safely. The Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition offers tips on how to use the Nutrition Facts Label. Plus, the Office of Health and Constituent Affairs operates a web portal called the FDA Patient Network. The Patient Network gives you access to health resources (including a newsletter) and can help you better understand the medical product regulation process.

How to Improve Your Own Health Literacy

You can start with FDA’s free publications, including those for women’s health and minority health. Then you can read FDA’s online resources for consumers to learn about health topics, such as those about medications and vaccines. FDA Consumer Updates offer free information about the latest agency news and research.

“Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions about your health care,” Duckhorn says. “Often when you’re unwell, you feel out of control. But asking questions actually enables you to take control of your own health.”

To view the original version on PR Newswire, visit:


Jonca BullAbout the Submitter:

Jonca Bull, MD, is Assistant Commissioner for Minority Health, FDA