Introduction to Health Literacy

What is Health Literacy?

Health literacy is the ability to obtain, read, understand, and use healthcare information in order to make appropriate health decisions and follow instructions for treatment. There are multiple definitions of health literacy, in part, because health literacy involves both the context (or setting) in which health literacy demands are made (e.g., health care, media, internet or fitness facility) and the skills that people bring to that situation (Rudd, Moeykens, & Colton, 1999). Studies reveal that only 12 percent of the adults in the U.S. have proficient health literacy. This means that more than 77 million adults have basic or below basic health literacy. These individuals have difficulty with common health tasks including reading the label of a prescribed drug. Low health literacy reduces the success of the management of chronic conditions, treatments and increases the risk of medical error. Health literacy is essential to promote healthy individuals and communities.

Various interventions, such as simplifying information and illustrations, avoiding jargon, using “teach-back” methods, and encouraging patients’ questions, have improved health behaviors in persons with low health literacy. Since health literacy is a primary contributing factor to health disparities, it is a continued and increasing concern for health professionals. As CHC Communicators, we can see the importance considering our communications from a Health Literacy perspective.

The Association is planning a webinar this year on Clear Communication Techniques for Health Center Communicators. The goal of the training is to assist health center staff to learn verbal communication best practices with a health literate focus; learn and practice plain language writing techniques; and learn health literate communication strategies that help ensure patients understand what they need to do for their health. We will keep you posted about this training and look forward to having you participate.

In the mean time, here are some links to information on Health Literacy:

We will continue to add Health Literacy Resources to this section of our website.