Literacy is the ability to read and write. Health literacy is the degree to which people can get, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make health decisions.
How Low Health Literacy Affects Patients
Low health literacy affects patient outcomes and health care costs. Patients with poor health literacy make more medication errors. They are less able to follow treatment instructions, less successful navigating the health care system, and at higher risk for hospitalization.
Anyone who needs health information and services also needs health literacy skills to:
- Find information and services
- Communicate their needs and preferences
- Respond to information and services
- Process the meaning and usefulness of the information and services
- Understand the choices, consequences, and context of the information and services
- Decide which information and services match their needs and preferences so they can act
Why Health Providers Need Health Literacy Skills
Anyone who provides health information and services to others, such as a doctor, nurse, dentist, pharmacist, or public health worker, also needs health literacy skills to:
- Help people find information and services
- Communicate about health and healthcare
- Process what people are explicitly and implicitly asking for
- Understand how to provide useful information and services
- Decide which information and services work best for different situations and people so they can act
Steps Patients Can Take to Improve Health Literacy
As a patient there are a few steps you can take to increase your health literacy.
- Use reliable websites when searching for health information. We recommend Medlineplus and Healthwise. Medlineplus is from the National Library of Medicine. They provide material that is designed for patients and is easy to read and understand. Healthwise is the online consumer health information resource available through the University of Vermont Medical Center website.
- Bring another person with you to your appointments to act as another set of ears. Ask them to be prepared to ask questions and speak up for you.
- Talk to people who can help you, such as staff at your healthcare provider’s office and social workers. Ask if your provider has a Community Health Team. Or, contact us at the Frymoyer Community Health Resource Center at The University of Vermont Medical Center.
If you have question or can’t find the information you are looking for, contact the Fymoyer Center at the University of Vermont Medical Center. We can find the information for you or refer you to the best sources. Call us at 802-847-8821, e-mail us at ResourceCenter@UVMHealth.org or visit us on the 3rd Level of the Main Pavilion at the Medical Center.
Alan P. Lampson, M.L.S., is the lead of the Frymoyer Community Health Resource Center at the UVM Medical Center.