Health literacy is defined as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information needed to make appropriate health decisions and services needed to prevent or treat illness.
Low health literacy is more prevalent among:
Patients with low health literacy may have difficulty:
Health Literacy is especially important to HRSA and the people we serve. It is a common thread through all HRSA's programs from HIV/AIDS, to maternal and child health, to rural health, to organ transplantation. A large portion of the people HRSA serves are poor and medically underserved, who need help understanding and navigating a complex health care system. They require culturally competent providers who speak their language in order to make informed health care choices.
A number of patients may be confused with certain medical language, have difficulty understanding English, struggle with filling out forms, or have limited access to health providers in their community. With the proper training, health care professionals can identify patients' specific health literacy levels and make simple communication adjustments.
Patients’ health literacy may be affected if they have:
How health care professionals can help:
What is Cultural Competency? (HHS Office of Minority Health)
National Standards for Culturally & Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health Care, HHS Office of Minority Health (PDF - 440 KB)
HHS National Plan for Action: Changing Outcomes - Achieving Health Equity
AHRQ Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit:
CDC Health Literacy for Public Health Professionals (Online Training by the CDC)
National Assessment of Adult Literacy (Department of Education)