Importance of Medical Literacy In our WorldWhat is health literacy?

What is health literacy?

The official definition of health literacy is an individual’s ability to “obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Just like reading literacy gives you skills to understand and use written information, health literacy refers to the skills you need to understand and make decisions about your health.

Strong health literacy enables people to develop the skills and confidence to make informed decisions about their health and the health of their families, to be active partners in their care, to effectively navigate health-care systems, and to advocate effectively to their political leaders and policy-makers.

Health literacy responsiveness, sometimes called organizational health literacy, is another important factor. This is the way in which services, organizations and systems make health information and resources available and accessible to people, according to their health literacy strengths and limitations.

By empowering people and creating favourable environments, stronger health literacy and health literacy responsiveness drive forward equity in health outcomes by making health care accessible to all, regardless of individual abilities.

How to improve health literacy

Experts agree that health literacy is vital to reducing healthcare costs and improving public health. The path to improving health literacy isn’t always straightforward.

Many healthcare facilities have adopted programs or systems designed to improve their patients’ health literacy. The National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy encourages alternate forms of communication, such as using simplified language and videos to share information with patients. It also outlines a “universal precautions approach,” which encourages healthcare professionals to assume all patients have a limited understanding of the procedures and information being relayed to them—this levels the field and helps ensure all patients are receiving easy-to-understand information.

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