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Patients and Families - What is health literacy?

What is health literacy?

Good communication is important for your health, and the health of your family.

To take care of your health or your family’s health you need to be able to:

  • Understand the health care system – including how to find the right doctor or health provider for your problems, make appointments, and fill out insurance forms.
  • Understand medical instructions – such as how to take medicines, what type of diet or exercise plan to follow, how to watch your blood pressure, blood sugar or other health issues.
  • Understand and perform skills to take care of yourself or your family member – such as when and how to take prescription and over-the-counter medicines, understand food labels and other nutrition information, understand and check different health issues such as blood pressure, blood sugar, weight level, and other issues.
  • Discuss and make medical decisions with your doctor or other health care providers – like decisions about medicines, vaccines(shots), blood tests, x-rays, heart tests, and other issues where you need to understand the risks and benefits to make a decision for you or your family.

 

One important factor in how you interact with the health system is Health Literacy. Health Literacy has to do with how well you can find, use, and understand information to take care of your health.

Health Literacy involves more than being able to read health materials. It includes:

  • Your reading and writing skills
  • How well you understand documents, tables, graphs and other materials
  • How well you can speak and understand what others say to you about your health
  • Your math skills
  • Your cultural background and beliefs

 

Our health care system is very complex! Even people with a good education can struggle with the health literacy skills needed to take care of their health.

Here is a video that shows what it is like for many patients or families:

Health literacy and patient safety: Help patients understand (YouTube)