What is health literacy?
Health literacy is the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.
Why is health literacy important?
Nearly 9 out of 10 adults have difficulty using the everyday health information that is routinely available in health care facilities, retail outlets, media, and communities.1,2,3 Limited health literacy is associated with poorer health outcomes and higher health care costs.4
Limited health literacy affects people’s ability to:
- Search for and use health information
- Adopt healthy behaviors
- Act on important public health alerts.
There are a number of Federal resources to help health and communication professionals improve health literacy, including the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy, Health Literacy Online: A Guide to Writing and Designing Easy-to-Use Health Web Sites and the Quick Guide to Health Literacy. These resources and many others are included in the tools, reports and research, and related resources sections.
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Reports & Research
- New Federal Policy Initiatives To Boost Health Literacy Can Help The Nation Move Beyond The Cycle Of Costly ‘Crisis Care’ (2012)
This article from Health Affairs outlines what the Department of Health and Human Services is doing to improve healthy literacy rates nationwide, and how we have brought health literacy to a tipping point through health policy milestones, including the healthcare reform law, the National Action Plan to Improve Healthy Literacy, and the Plain Writing Act of 2010.
- Issue Brief: America’s Health Literacy: Why We Need Accessible Health Information (2008)
This brief summarizes key findings and presents some policy implications of the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) and the first national assessment of health literacy.
- Assessing the Nation’s Health Literacy: Key Concepts and Findings of the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (2008) [PDF – 2.0MB]
This document details health literacy results from the landmark 2003 NAAL, the Nation’s most comprehensive measure of adult literacy in more than a decade.
- Proceedings of the Surgeon General’s Workshop on Improving Health Literacy (2006)
This report documents the Surgeon General’s Workshop on Improving Health Literacy, held on September 7, 2006. The goal of the workshop was to present the state of the science in the field of health literacy from a variety of perspectives, including those of health care organizations and providers, the research community, and educators.
- Health Literacy Town Hall Meeting Notes (2007–2008)
These notes detail the proceedings of four town hall meetings, which offered participants the opportunity to explore promising practices and lessons learned in improving health literacy. Findings from the meetings shaped the development of the National Action Plan To Improve Health Literacy.
- Prevention Report: Focus on Health Literacy (HHS 2005)
This report explores the connection between health literacy and good health as well as barriers to and steps for improving health literacy.
- Issue Brief: Plain Language: A Promising Strategy for Clearly Communicating Health Information and Improving Health Literacy (2005)
This issue brief describes why plain language is a promising strategy for clearly communicating health information and improving health literacy.
- Literacy and Health Outcomes (AHRQ 2004)
This report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) summarizes the results of studies on the relationship between literacy and health outcomes, and it provides evidence-based approaches to improving the health of people with limited literacy.
- A Prescription To End Confusion (IOM 2004)
This landmark report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) explores health literacy, details the consequences of poor health literacy, and provides potential ways to improve health literacy.
- The Health Literacy of America’s Adults: Results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (2006)
This is the first release of NAAL health literacy results. The results are based on assessment tasks designed specifically to measure the health literacy of adults living in the United States.
- Health Literacy Chapter in Communicating Health: Priorities and Strategies for Progress (2003)
This chapter comes from the Action Plan To Achieve the Health Communication Objectives in Healthy People 2010 and details issues relating to measuring improvement, influencing change, and developing solutions to address limited health literacy.
- Improving Communication With Older Patients: Tips From the Literature (2006)
This article provides specific steps that physicians and their staffs can take to improve communication with older adults.
- Journal of the Medical Library Association, The Journey Project: A Case Study in Providing Health Information to Mitigate Health Disparities (2009)
This article details the results of an intervention designed to improve health disparities by creating a staff position that combines social work and health library science to assist patients.
- Improving Health Literacy for Older Adults (2009) [PDF – 1.97MB]
This report summarizes presentations from the December 6–7, 2007, meeting of the Expert Panel on Improving Health Literacy.
- Research Underway in Health Literacy Supported by NIH
This page lists all health literacy research projects being conducted with funds from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
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- National Action Plan To Improve Health Literacy
The National Action Plan To Improve Health Literacy seeks to engage organizations, professionals, policymakers, communities, individuals, and families in a linked, multisector effort to improve health literacy.
- Healthy People: Health Communication and Health IT Objectives
Healthy People provides science-based, 10-year national objectives for improving the use, quality, and accessibility of health communication and health IT.
- Health Literacy Resources Fact Sheet [PDF – 105KB]
This ready-to-print fact sheet from CDC provides a list of quality health literacy trainings, standards, reports, and assessment tools.
- AHRQ Health Literacy and Cultural Competency Web Site
Individuals can sign up to receive articles, grant announcements, and the latest reports, tools, and resources.
- Clear Communication: an NIH Health Literacy Initiative
This resource focuses on the various programs and resources that NIH has developed to improve communication between consumers and health professionals.
- Health Literacy: Accurate, Accessible and Actionable Health Information for All
This CDC Web site provides information and tools to learn about health literacy, find online trainings, develop a health literacy improvement plan, create easy-to-understand materials, and find methods to evaluate health literacy.
- Health Literacy at CDC
This fact sheet covers the basics of health literacy and provides links to trainings, reports, and resources.
- National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus: Health Literacy
This consumer-friendly site provides a list of helpful resources to assist consumers in improving their own health literacy.
- National Library of Medicine Health Literacy Bibliography
This bibliography examines some of the barriers that may need to be addressed when designing health literacy strategies.
- National Library of Medicine’s Search and Health Literacy Information Resources
This search resource lists citations to health literacy articles in English-language journals and Web sites.
- National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus: Evaluating Health Information
This consumer-friendly site provides basic strategies to improve health and media literacy.
- National Network of Libraries of Medicine: Health Literacy
This page provides an overview of health literacy, its impact, and the role of the consumer health librarian. It also lists a number of resources, organizations, and listservs.
- Office of Minority Health: Think Cultural Health
This site offers a number of cultural competency resources for health professionals.
Users can review Federal plain language guidelines, view examples, and discover tools and resources on this site.
- National Prevention Strategy The National Prevention Strategy is a comprehensive plan to increase the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life. It recognizes that good health comes not just from receiving quality medical care, but also from positive changes in an individual’s environment. Improving health literacy is a key component of the National Prevention Strategy.
- National Agricultural Library Health Literacy Resource List for Educators (March 2007) [PDF – 155KB]
This publication is a collection of health literacy resources, tools for developing and evaluating materials, and sources of easy-to-read nutrition materials.
- Prevention: A Blueprint for Action
The plan details a number of action steps to improve health in the United States as outlined in the HealthierUS Initiative, including health literacy and messaging.
- read-able.com: The Readability Test Tool
The Readability Test Tool provides a quick and easy way to test the readability of a Web page or text.
- Health Literacy Missouri Library
This library is a collection of references to articles, books, Web sites, and other materials on health literacy from major health databases and indexes, the Internet, and other sources.
- Resources Shared by Participants During the October 7, 2010, Health Literacy Twitter Chat Hosted by healthfinder.gov [DOC – 49KB ]
This list of health literacy resources was generated by participants in a Health Literacy Twitter Chat and includes links to information from the Federal Government and non-Government organizations.
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