URL of this page: https://medlineplus.gov/healthliteracy.html

Health Literacy


What is health literacy?

Health literacy refers to how well a person can find and understand the health information and services that they need. It is also about using the information and services to make good health decisions.

Which factors can affect health literacy?

Many different factors can affect a person's health literacy, including their

  • Knowledge of medical words
  • Understanding of how the health care system works
  • Ability to communicate with health care providers
  • Ability to find health information, which may require computer skills
  • Reading, writing, and number skills
  • Personal factors, such as age, income, education, language abilities, and culture
  • Physical or mental limitations

Many of the same people who are at risk for limited health literacy also have health disparities. Health disparities are health differences between different groups of people. Some examples are how many people of a certain group get a specific disease or have health insurance. These groups may be based on age, race, gender, or other factors.

Why is health literacy important?

Health literacy is important because it can affect your ability to

  • Make good decisions about your health
  • Get appropriate medical care, including preventative care. Good preventative care may help you avoid getting certain diseases.
  • Take your medicines correctly
  • Manage a disease, especially a chronic disease
  • Lead a healthy lifestyle

One thing that you can do is to make sure that you communicate well with your health care providers. If you don't understand something a provider tells you, ask them to explain it to you so that you understand. You can ask the provider to write down their instructions and to tell you what to do if you need more information.

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