How Can Health Literacy Be Improved?

The health care system can be difficult for patients to navigate, particularly for those who lack sufficient health literacy skills. Health literacy is the ability to understand basic health information and services, and it is a skill that many adults across the United States struggle with. Despite the challenges that come with navigating the health care system, patients can become adept if given the right resources. By communicating health information clearly with patients, providers can help remove a few of the barriers that patients may face when seeking treatment.

What Problems Do Patients Encounter?

Patients may encounter the disconnect between health care providers and insurance companies. There is often little communication between providers and insurers, and the responsibility of ensuring that medications are compatible with insurance plans often falls to patients. For instance, if a doctor prescribes a specific medication to her patient, this does not mean that the patient’s health insurance will cover the medication. The doctor’s advice to take the medication may mean that the patient has to take a medication that is not on the formulary. This can make receiving care costly for patients by leaving them with unexpected bills. By not being fully transparent with patients, providers and insurers may end up discouraging patients from seeking future treatment. To improve conditions for consumers, health care providers should focus on revising information and services so that they meet the health literacy levels of their patients.

Two Steps for Increasing Health Literacy

Plain Language

Plain language is a strategy for making information easier to understand—improving overall health literacy among patients. Materials written in plain language will avoid technical terminology, use simple language, and break down complex information into understandable chunks.

Providing Information in Different Formats

Health information provided in different formats allows patients to process the information given to them more fully. These formats can include video, text, or audio–depending on whichever format the patient is most comfortable receiving.


Although many patients struggle with health literacy, health care providers can address this problem by communicating health information more clearly through the use of training and better materials. Companies in the health care industry should consider consulting with a legal expert to ensure that they are being transparent and engaging with their patients.

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I also host a podcast called DarshanTalks, a show that discusses newsworthy FDA issues and how they apply to bringing a product to market – and keeping it there. From patient centricity in clinical trials to the government shutdown to CRISPR and bioethics to why big data is doomed to fail in healthcare, we’ve got quite the list of topics to review! Listen to the podcast on Google Podcasts or on Apple Podcasts.