What is health literacy?
Health literacy involves the information that people need to be able to make good decisions about health. There are two parts:
- Personal health literacy is about 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.
- Organizational health literacy is about to how well organizations help people find the health information and services that they need. It also includes helping them use that information 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. 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 the medical care you need. This includes preventative care, which is care to prevent disease.
- 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 also ask the provider to write down their instructions.
- Be More Engaged in Your Health Care: Tips for Patients (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality)
- Over-the-Counter Medicine Label: Take a Look (Food and Drug Administration)
- CDC Clear Communication Index (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Clear & Simple (National Institutes of Health)
- Federal Plain Language Guidelines (General Services Administration)
- Health Literacy Online: A Guide for Simplifying the User Experience (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion)
- Plain Language: Getting Started or Brushing Up (National Institutes of Health)
- The Patient Education Materials Assessment Tool (PEMAT) and User's Guide (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality)
Health Check Tools
- Question Builder: Be Prepared for Your Next Medical Appointment (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality)
Videos and Tutorials
- Understanding Medical Words: A Tutorial from the National Library of Medicine (National Library of Medicine)
Statistics and Research
- Health Literacy (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality) - Articles, Papers, and Reports
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Health Literacy (National Institutes of Health)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Kids' Medical Dictionary (Nemours Foundation)