Health literacy

Defined as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information needed to make appropriate health decisions.

Relates to one’s communicating effectively with healthcare providers, and negotiating healthcare services.

HL consists of complex and interconnected abilities required to function effectively in the healthcare environment.

HL skills impact communication and include print literacy, the ability to read, understand, and act upon text and to locate and interpret health information in documents.

Oral literacy is included with the ability to speak and listen effectively about health information with communicating with health professionals, and understanding professional instructions.

Compared to individuals with adequate health literacy, individuals with low health literacy are more likely to inappropriately or infrequently use healthcare services.

Includes the ability to read and understand labels,, educational materials, and appointment arrangements.

Individuals with low health literacy have worse physical and mental health problems, more difficulty following medical instructions, and have a shorter life expectancy.

Health literacy is composed of a variety of skills beyond reading and writing and include speaking, listening, cultural awareness, conceptual knowledge and the ability to apply statistics to manage one’s health problems.

The ability to apply numbers as needed to manage one’s health is referred to as quantitative literacy or numeracy.

Health literacy and numeracy are often related, but not necessarily so.

Low health literacy and low numeracy occur in one in three adults.

Low health literacy is associated with lower patient information seeking.

There is a distinction between healthcare literacy and formal education.

Lower rates of adequate functional health literacy is particularly common among the elderlyand those with less formal education.

Health literacy refers to then degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information needed to make appropriate health decisions.

Only 12% of the US population is considered to have a proficient level of health literacy, and most(53%) have intermediate health literacy.

Low health literacy is associated with impaired ability to communicate about health, poor ability to understand and follow medical advice, and to interpret written information in medical and surgical contexts.

Low health literacy correlates with decreased adherence to care recommendations and screening guidelines and negatively influences outcomes of the management of chronic illnesses including asthma, diabetes, congestive heart failure and end-stage renal disease.

Low health literacy is associated with a higher incidence of unplanned readmissions after hospitalization, increased rate of acute care and emergency department visits.

Low health literacy impacts whether a patient undergoes certain  surgical procedures, or are listed for kidney transplant.

Low health literacy is predictive of minor postoperative complications in patients undergoing radical cystectomy, and is independently associated with increased hospital length of stay in patients undergoing major abdominal surgery.

Low health literacy is more prevalent among:

Older adults


Low socioeconomic status

Medically underserved people

Limited education

Cultural barriers

Language barriers

Individuals with low health literacy have difficulty locating providers and services, filling out health forms, sharing a medical history, seeking appropriate preventive healthcare, knowing the connection between risky behavior and health, managing their chronic health conditions, and understanding medical directions.

Health of individuals with lower reading levels has been found to be poor compared with persons with higher reading levels, even adjusting for socioeconomic variables.

Patients with inadequate level of health literacy are likely to report depressive symptoms due to poor health status.

Low health literacy and low numeracy are associated with poor health outcomes across the chronic disease spectrum.

Lower health literacy associated with decreased health screenings.

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