Health Literacy – Navigating the Healthcare System


Health Literacy – The degree to which individuals are able to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.

Health literacy includes being able to understand instructions on prescription bottles, appointment slips, health education brochures, doctor’s instructions, consent forms, and manage complex health care systems.

Health literacy, which is not necessarily related to a person’s years of formal education, may be different in different environments. It includes being able to:

  • read
  • listen
  • communicate [read, listen and talk]
  • analyze
  • make decisions, and
  • apply decision-making skills to health situations

Health literacy may however include numerical skills. For example, calculating cholesterol and blood sugar levels, measuring medications, and understanding nutrition labels all require math skills. Choosing between health plans or comparing prescription drug coverage requires calculating premiums, co-pays, and deductibles.

In addition to basic literacy skills, health literacy requires knowledge of health topics. People with limited health literacy often lack knowledge or have misinformation about the body as well as the nature and causes of disease. Without this knowledge, they may not understand the relationship between lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise and various health outcomes.

Who is at risk?

Populations most likely to experience low health literacy are older adults, racial and ethnic minorities, people with less than a high school degree or GED certificate, people with low income levels, non-native speakers of English, and people with compromised health status. Education, language, culture, access to resources, and age are all factors that affect a person’s health literacy skills.

Because a key part of Health Power’s mission is increasing the health literacy of minorities/people of color, we are pleased to share a Health Literacy Umbrella that protects from the rain of various health problems and risks, and identifies various activities that contribute to health literacy.

Those who share our commitment to eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities can play a key role in helping to ensure that minorities receive:
(1) simply stated and understandable health information, and
(2) health promotion messages, and tools thathelp motivate and achieve much needed movement toward health equity.

Our website, Blog, Social Media Network, E-blasting messages, and various print materials such as brochures and Tip Sheets, in helping to move our nation from health disparities to health equity.

Remember the Health Power motto: Knowledge + Action = Power!

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