Health Literacy: Making Health Accessible for Everyone

Health Literacy: Making Health Accessible for Everyone

April 3, 2023

Picture shows a doctor and a nurse comparing a chart in a hospital hallwayHealth literacy can be defined in two scopes: 1) an individual’s health literacy, and 2) an organization’s capacity to encourage and provide the possibility for their constituents to pursue and improve their health literacy. An individual’s health literacy is defined as “the degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.” Conversely, organizational health literacy is defined by the Centers for Disease Control as the degree to which organizations equitably empower or enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and service to better inform their health-related decisions and subsequent actions for the betterment of themselves and others.1 It is important to note that these definitions have been updated since their prior 2010 and 2020 version. The recent changes in the definition reflect an emphasis on the application and usefulness of health information compared to the previous standard of just simply understanding health-related information. This change enables and empowers individuals to make well-informed decisions. Additionally, the updated definitions recognize and include the responsibility of an organization to address health literacy while also incorporating it into a public health perspective.2 A significant result that is included when improving health literacy is also addressing issues of health equity. Doing this will allow our society to push for the highest level of health for all people until they have reached a successful point where everyone has the opportunity to be as healthy as possible without the presence of controllable barriers3. Health literacy affects everyone and is not just an individual issue.   

Inequality is a factor that needs to be included when discussing health literacy due to the fact that low health literacy is more commonly associated with populations that are classified as older adults, minorities, medically underserved, and of low socioeconomic status.4 For these individuals, when they are presented as patients, they may experience a harder time making informed and accurate medical decisions due to a lack of understanding of various capacities. These patients’ low health literacy oftentimes causes them to experience issues when visiting medical facilities or discussing their health. For example, healthcare providers may use technical terminology that patients do not understand, possibly given a patient’s low educational skills or limited English proficiency.5 Cultural barriers may also play a role in an individual’s low health literacy as they may not have experienced the same healthcare system or approach to healthcare as that of the United States. These barriers can then cause difficulty in filling out forms, sharing medical history with healthcare providers, understanding diagnosis and the needed action, seeking preventative care, understanding the risk factors or behaviors, managing their chronic health condition, understanding medication directions, or even simply just finding or accessing specific health care providers in their communities.6  

Organizations and healthcare providers have the potential to lessen the strain of limited health literacy on their patients’ lives and decisions by providing them with the necessities for basic communication and understanding. This includes healthcare providers having the proper training to identify each patient’s specific health literacy and conducting themselves and their language accordingly.7 Additionally, it is necessary to also ensure culturally competent providers are available to speak the language of their patients in addition to a cultural understanding of health/nutritional traditions and beliefs and social determinants of health, to start. With this in mind, healthcare professionals have the potential to make a significant impact in their patient’s life by simply offering a more inclusive and assistive medical experience. For example, if healthcare professionals have identified a patient with limited literacy levels they can use simple language with clear, understandable definitions, supplement instructions with materials or demonstrations that may be easier to understand and digest, ask patients  “how” and “what” questions to encourage detailed responses, provide culturally relevant health recommendations, organize information to emphasis the most important point, offer assistance with completing forms, and more.8  


For more information on health literacy and what you, your organization, or your community can do to improve it visit:  


Information Sources:  

|2023-04-03T10:17:09-04:00April 3rd, 2023|CINH The Connection resources|Comments Off on Health Literacy: Making Health Accessible for Everyone

About the Author: Carolyn Voight

Carolyn Voight

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