The Independence
Longtime UHN patient Millie L. Dolanjski says over the years she’s “learned that the better informed I am, the more I can take care of my own well-being.” (Photo: UHN)

Millie L. Dolanjski has learned first-hand the importance of health literacy.

A longtime patient of UHN, Millie describes her journey through the healthcare system as a "long one with many ups and downs."  Since asthma and other complications led to her being admitted to Toronto Western Hospital in 2001, she has been active in numerous programs "to get better and to lead my life as best as I can."

But over the years, Millie has also visited the Patient and Family Education Library. There, for free, she has accessed medical resources, including books, videos, newsletters and monthly educational talks.

Health Literacy involves using many different skills to get, understand, communicate and use information to make good decisions about your health. It is one of the most important skills that patients and family members need to actively and safely take part in their care.

As we mark October as Health Literacy Month, Millie has a simple message: knowledge is power when it comes to taking charge of your healthcare journey.

Better navigating the system

Health Literacy Month logo"I realized the importance of being involved in learning as much as possible about my condition," Millie says. "Learning and expanding  my knowledge, helped me better navigate the system, thus gaining more confidence, which in turn helped me communicate more effectively with my healthcare providers."

Using the information she gathered, Millie found she was better prepared for treatments and procedures and no longer intimidated by her healthcare providers or scared of asking questions.

"I've learned that the better informed I am, the more I can take care of my own well-being," says Millie, who last year became a member of the UHN Patient Partners Program, which included participating this past June in a meeting on health literacy in Ontario that was co-sponsored by UHN and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

During the conference, Millie says, that she had been using health literacy through her care journey, even if she wasn't aware that's exactly what it was. Finding the information she needed, either by researching on her own or working with library staff, helped her gain deeper understanding of her care.

Much work remains on health literacy

But Millie recognizes she is one of the lucky ones. As informed as she has been able to make herself about her own healthcare situation, she knows much work remains to increase the knowledge and understanding of the complexities of modern care, which is at the heart of Health Literacy Month.

"Through my healing journey, I gained confidence and - even as an inpatient struggling with illness - I have been fortunate, blessed, really, to be able to speak out for myself," Millie says. "But I know that's not the case with everybody. I know they're not as informed or vocal.

"It's for those people that I think it's important that we expand the knowledge and understanding of their healthcare journey for them and for their families and caregivers."

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