There are people who go to the doctor as soon as they sneeze. And there are others who refuse to make an appointment even when they are obviously really unwell. But even for the ones in the middle of this spectrum the question of when to see the doctor is not always easily answered. Knowing when to turn to professional help is considered a very important aspect of health literacy. However, not a lot of data exist on health literacy of migrant populations.
In a study we recently published, functional health literacy (in the form of knowing when to seek professional help for common health problems) was assessed in 4 migrant groups residing in Switzerland. Data from the Health Monitoring of the Swiss Migrant Population of 2010 was used. Participants (n=2614) originated from Portugal, Turkey, Serbia and Kosovo, aged between 17 and 74 years. The survey included 12 short, specific scenarios that described 6 common physical symptoms and 6 psychological symptoms and a total sum score measured help-seeking knowledge. There were also two sub-scores, relating to potential overuse (i.e. going to the doctor for minor symptoms) or potential underuse (not going to the doctor for major symptoms).
The study found that there was an unequal distribution of help-seeking knowledge across the 4 migrant populations. Portuguese participants had the highest scores of health seeking knowledge, while Kosovars had the lowest. Replies from participants from Turkey suggested potential overuse of health care, while Kosovars were prone to both overuse and underuse it. Participants with higher education had better health literacy, while knowledge of when to seek professional behaviour seemed to decrease as tehe age increased. Women had higher scores on health seeking knowledge.