What is health literacy?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated their definition of health literacy in 2020 as part of the Healthy People 2030 initiative. This new definition addresses both personal and organizational health literacy.
- Personal health literacy is about how well a person can find and understand the health information and services they need. It is also about using the information and services to make good health decisions.
- Organizational health literacy is how well organizations help people find the health information and services they need. It also includes helping people use that information to make good health decisions.
9 out of 10 adults in the United States struggle with health literacy. Even people who read well can face health literacy issues when they are scared, stressed, or confused.
Why is health literacy important?
We all need to be able to find, understand, and use health information and services at some point in our lives. Health literacy can help you prevent health problems, and better manage health problems when they happen.
People with better health literacy skills are more likely to be healthy. That’s because health literacy skills can help you:
- Find and understand accurate information to make informed health decisions
- Get the medical care you need to treat and prevent illness
- Take your medicines correctly
- Manage a disease, especially a chronic disease
- Navigate complex health care systems
What can you do to boost your health literacy?
While it’s important for health care and public health professionals to make sure patients understand health information, there are also steps you can take to improve your health literacy:
- Ask your health care provider questions if there is anything you don’t understand. Ask questions to learn more about your health conditions, treatment options, medications, and tests. You can also write down your questions and bring them with you to your appointment.
- Repeat what your health care provider tells you in your own words to make sure you understand. This gives them a chance to clear up anything you misheard or might be confused about.
- Ask for information in the language you understand best. Health care providers are required to give health information you can understand, no matter what language you speak. You can ask for an interpreter to help you translate and ask for written materials in the language you read best.
- Ask for informational printouts or other materials to help you learn more about your health conditions or treatment options.
- Bring a trusted friend or loved one to your appointment, if possible. They can help take notes in case you miss anything, especially if you are sick or stressed.
- Find reliable sources of health information. Check your sources to make sure you are getting accurate information or ask your provider where you can find reliable resources.
Find more resources:
- Health Literacy (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Health Literacy (National Library of Medicine)
- Teens: Questions you can ask your doctor (Spanish)