Health illiteracy adds billions to health care costs

The cost of health care for some of the more health illiterate patients in the United States is almost 50 percent higher than necessary, according to research reported Wednesday.

Unnecessary hospitalizations, delays in treatment and problems with prescriptions are among the costly problems that crop up when people do not understand their care and doctors fail to reach out to their patients, the research showed. The numbers add up to between 3 percent and 5 percent of personal health care costs nationwide, said Robert B. Friedland, Ph.D., of Georgetown University, who estimated that $50 billion to $73 billion could be saved each year by improving health literacy.