Health Blog

Understanding Health Literacy

Are you confident you can compare premiums and deductibles to find the best health insurance plan for you and your family?

Can you use a nutrition label to calculate how many grams of sugar are in a bowl of your breakfast cereal?

Are you able to locate the medical services you need, when you need them?

If so, you may have high health literacy! When we talk about health literacy, we are referring to a person’s ability to access and understand health-related information and services. It’s something we all possess to varying degrees, and we often use our health literacy skills without knowing we’re using them.

Health literacy can vary widely between people depending on someone’s level of education, cultural background, economic status, skill with numbers, and mental health. No matter our level of health literacy, we build our skills over a lifetime and there is always room for improvement. Health literacy skills include the following:

  • Being able to correctly dose and administer medications
  • Knowing the body systems and how to describe pain
  • Finding and understanding information on a medical topic
  • Being able to manage a chronic health condition
  • Knowing your own and your family’s health history
  • Comparing treatment options to decide what’s best for you
  • Understanding your provider’s instructions
  • Filling out complex forms accurately

Knowing a patient’s general level of health literacy is important to successful treatment, as people with lower health literacy are likelier to be hospitalized, end up in the emergency room, and to take medications incorrectly. Where appropriate, healthcare providers should use plain language to ensure that they and their patients are on the same page. For patients with a different cultural background than their providers, extra attention is needed to ensure that communication is clear and understood.

Delivering quality healthcare requires examining how health literacy influences every aspect of the medical experience, both at the office and at home. It is our responsibility to make sure the services we provide and the information we share are accessible and understandable to all.

Laura P.
AmeriCorps Member