Explore these resources to learn how to implement and promote the Health Literate Care Model in your organization or community.
A Universal Precautions Approach
A universal precautions approach means treating all patients as if they are at risk of not understanding health information. When health care providers use this approach, they acknowledge that:
- Professionals can’t accurately identify who understands and who doesn’t.
- Health literacy is situational. Even individuals with proficient health literacy skills may sometimes have trouble understanding health information — especially when they’re sick, frightened, or in pain.
- Everyone benefits from clear, actionable information.
By adopting a universal precautions approach, health care providers can communicate with all patients in clear and actionable ways.
- Use the Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit to assess primary care practices and raise awareness about health literacy among staff
Community partners — like social service, public safety, and literacy groups — are essential to a health literate system. Partnerships between health care providers and community organizations can improve access to the resources and skills people need to manage their health effectively. They also create the opportunity to educate community-based organizations on how to address health literacy in the services they provide.
Health Literate Systems
Health literate organizations make it easier for people to navigate, understand, and use health information and services. For these health care organizations, health literacy is a cultural value modeled by leadership and integrated into all aspects of planning and operations.
Delivery system design
In the Health Literate Care Model, staff members take on diverse roles to adapt care delivery for various levels of health literacy. For example, they might:
- Schedule interpreter services in advance of appointments
- Facilitate patient education during group visits
- Call patients to confirm their understanding of lab results or complex treatment instructions
- Hold “brown bag” medicine reviews
Learn more about how you can adapt care delivery for different levels of health literacy:
Watch this walk-through of a "brown bag" medicine review:
Health information systems
Clinical information systems and electronic medical records are useful tools for both providers and patients. These systems can support providers by:
- Tracking referrals, “brown bag” medicine reviews, and other activities
- Including reminders for proactive and frequent follow-up with patients
- Offering user-friendly patient portals that let patients view their health records and access educational resources
Learn more about making health information accessible for patients:
- Find out how to make consumer-facing health websites easy to use and understand
- Read this guide to accessible health information technology [PDF - 379 KB]
Patients need help learning how to manage their health day to day. Health care providers can facilitate this learning by offering self-management support. Examples of how health literacy strategies can be used when delivering self-management support include:
- Asking patients to explain in their own words how they are going to take care of themselves (teach-back method)
- Encouraging questions to reduce uncertainty and give patients confidence that they can manage their conditions
- Developing personal action plans that help patients break down health goals into realistic steps
Find out more about implementing self-management support:
- Browse the self-management support resource library
- Use this teach-back training toolkit
- Learn about self-management support
Shared decision making
Shared decision making is a process that allows patients and their health care providers to make decisions together. This collaborative process considers the best scientific evidence available as well as the individual patient’s values and preferences.
Strategies for Health Literate Organizations
Learn how different health literacy strategies relate to each aspect of the Health Literate Care Model.
Apply improvement methods
Health organizations that adopt the Health Literate Care Model explicitly incorporate health literacy into their ongoing efforts to improve quality of care.
Improve verbal interaction
Training can help providers improve their communication skills.
- Learn about strategies to help providers communicate more clearly
- Get tips for communicating clearly with patients
- Try this free, online course to learn more about effective communication strategies
Improve written communication
In order to be effective, print materials must be easy for people to read, understand, and act on.
Link to supportive systems
Supportive systems include non-medical support, medication assistance, and health literacy resources.
- Find out how to link patients to non-medical support
- Learn about resources to help patients with their medication costs
- Get tips for connecting patients with health literacy resources
Engage patients as partners
Feedback from patients and caregivers is key to building and improving health literate organizations. Health literate care systems engage patients in their health care and support patients and caregivers as partners in quality improvement.
- Check out this toolkit about engaging patients in improving ambulatory care
- Check out this patient-centered medical home assessment
Watch this video about patient engagement:
Productive interactions between patients and providers involve ongoing conversations, either face to face or facilitated by media such as patient portals. During these interactions, patients and providers align their understanding of medical terms, prevention and treatment options, and care plans — and set expectations for the how they’ll meet their outcome goals. Productive interactions facilitate shared decision making and informed self-management.
Informed, Health Literate, Activated Patient and Family
In a health literate care system, patients and their families have the knowledge and skills they need to make informed decisions and provide feedback.
- Learn about the patient and family engagement module of the Comprehensive Unit-based Safety Program (CUSP) toolkit
- Read this guide to engaging patients and families in hospital quality and safety
- Learn about the Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care
Prepared, Proactive, Health Literate Health Care Team
Leaders of health literate organizations foster productive interactions throughout their organizations by:
- Building these interactions into organizational policy development, delivery systems, and patient portals
- Encouraging community partners to engage in productive interactions with patients
- Using interactions to obtain patient feedback and adapt to patients’ evolving needs for understandable and actionable information