Health Literacy by Pfizer
HEALTH LITERACY WHAT IT IS AND WHY IT MATTERS
Benefits & Risks
Taking care of our health is a part of life, not just when we visit a clinic or hospital.
Health literacy can help us protect our health, understand health problems,
and perhaps avoid or manage some of them.
WHAT IS HEALTH LITERACY?
Health literacy is a measure of how patients get health information and services, understand them, and use them.
Health literacy is different from literacy,
which is a person's reading and writing skills.
Health literacy also includes math skills
and knowledge of health topics
and the human body.
Health literacy depends on individual factors as well as the healthcare system.
Medical or technical words may be unfamiliar, but patients can continue to learn new terms and health topics.
By improving health literacy, patients may be able to
make better choices about their health.
IMPROVING HEALTH LITERACY
Health information can feel difficult and confusing.
What people learn about health information may be incomplete and often becomes outdated.⁷
Nearly 9 out of 10 adults may not have received the health literacy tools needed to manage their health.⁶
Improving health literacy may help patients:
• Improve health outcomes and quality of care and lower
• Find a healthcare provider, like a primary care doctor
or a specialist, or a service, like a mammogram or an X-ray
• Fill out complicated medical forms
• Share information with the healthcare team
• Understand treatment options and their benefits and risks
• Work with other members of the healthcare team to decide
on a treatment plan
• Manage treatment options, set goals, and ask questions
Improving health literacy is the job of the entire healthcare team.
WHAT CAN YOU, THE PATIENT, DO
TO IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH LITERACY?
When you visit your healthcare provider, start with
these three simple questions
What is my main health problem? What do I need to do? Why is it important for me to do this?
Don’t be afraid to ask your healthcare professionals to explain something again.
If the doctor, nurse, pharmacist, or other member of the healthcare team says something you do not understand—let them know!
If English is not your main language, tell your healthcare team.
Ask your healthcare team to give you educational materials to read or watch.
TAKE THE FIRST STEP WITH THIS ARTICLE ON GETTING TO KNOW YOUR HEALTHCARE TEAM
Make more informed choices about your health by taking steps to learn about and improve your health literacy. CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT HEALTH LITERACY
RESOURCES FOR HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONALS
Continue to "encourage patients and their families to feel comfortable enough to speak up about any concerns they have about errors or the quality of care they are receiving." —The Joint Commission
Clear health communication between healthcare professionals
and patients can help to improve health literacy and understanding.
Techniques that healthcare professionals can use include:
• Speak in plain language and avoid technical terms • Focus on key information needed for the visit • Let the most important points come first • Ask open-ended questions • Encourage patients to write down their questions before their appointments • Make information relevant to the patient’s culture
• Use language services for those
who don’t speak English as their
• Work together with patients to set
goals and make shared decisions
• Suggest patients bring a trusted
person to appointments, such
as a close friend or family member
• Distribute plain-language
educational materials and connect
patients with supportive resources
such as advocacy groups
• Ask patients to share information
learned or plans made by teaching
them back to you
The "Newest Vital Sign" tool to help you assess your patients' health literacy is available by clicking on the link below. CLICK HERE FOR THE NEWEST VITAL SIGN TOOL
CLICK HERE FOR ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
Apter, A. J. 2013. Numeracy in health care: A clinician’s perspective. Presentation at the Institute of Medicine Workshop
on Health Literacy and Numeracy, Washington, DC, July 18.
Komondor K. 5 things for health providers-Health literacy journey at St. Vincent Medical Center; Powerpoint presentation,
Institute of Medicine Workshop on Organizational Change to Improve Health Literacy; Washington, DC. April 11.2013