What Is Health Literacy?

Health literacy allows patients to understand the health information and services being offered to them and become more engaged in their treatment plans. Unfortunately, health literacy skills are considerably low for most patients. According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, nine out of ten adults lack the reading skills necessary to understand health information being given to them. To address these low levels of literacy, providers must focus on implementing patient education strategies to help patients engage with their health and successfully navigate the healthcare system.

How Does Patient Education Affect Health Literacy?

Although health literacy overlaps with patient education, the two concepts have very different meanings. Patient education is the practice of informing patients of their health, wellness, treatment plans, potential outcomes, and other critical health information. Although this health information is being given to the patient, it does not guarantee that the patient understands the information they are receiving. The patient’s understanding of health information depends on their health literacy skills or ability to comprehend medical instructions. Successful patient education means providing health information to the patient in a way that is easily understood and accounts for low health literacy. This is where patient education strategies such as plain language writing become important for providers to consider.  

How Can Providers Improve Health Literacy?

When making health information more accessible to patients, healthcare experts should implement strategies such as plain language writing. Writing health information in plain language means breaking down complex information, writing in the active voice, and defining technical terms. These techniques allow healthcare providers to present difficult-to-understand information in a more digestible format for their patients. By using patient education strategies such as plain language writing, healthcare providers can ensure that a wider range of patients can understand and use their health services. 

Can Health Literacy Encourage Patients to Engage with Their Health?

Although patients often occupy a passive role in healthcare, health literacy can help them engage with their healthcare providers and be more active during their treatment process. The well-informed patient is more likely to ask their physician about the risks and benefits of a treatment before proceeding. This contrasts with the typical narrative in healthcare where the patient passively accepts recommendations provided to them by their physician. Being knowledgeable about the healthcare system ultimately allows patients to engage with the healthcare system and communicate with providers about their health needs and preferences.  

Healthcare providers should focus on educating their patients in a way that drives health literacy. Before choosing a patient education strategy, providers should ideally consult with a health literacy company to educate themselves on how to engage with patients and help patients improve their health literacy skills.

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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.