“Be a Health Literacy Hero” is the theme for Health Literacy Month. The observance is a time for health care clinics and public health programs to recognize the importance of promoting clear health information to patients and families. This will help them make informed decisions about their health.
What is Health Literacy?
Health Literacy is the degree to which an individual can obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions.
Each day, we communicate with patients in many ways, such as talking, providing written materials, and through social media. We assume that patients understand the information they receive, but many may not.
Without clear communication, it is unlikely, or patients may be unable to follow recommendations from their health care providers. According to the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy , “nearly 9 out of 10 adults have difficulty using the everyday health information that is routinely available in our health care facilities, retail outlets, media, and communities.” Low literacy affects people of all incomes, educational levels, and ages. However, individuals that are minorities, elderly, suffer from a chronic illness, have a lower level of education, or an income below the poverty level are at higher risk. Low health literacy is estimated to result in billions of dollars of unnecessary costs, increased medical errors, and increased mortality.
What is IHS doing to support Health Literacy?
An IHS Health Literacy Work Group was re-established in April 2017 to develop a work plan that is aligned with the goals and objectives of the HHS Health Literacy Work Plan. Current ongoing efforts include:
- Developing a 20-minute training module titled, “Basics of Health Literacy & Plain Language” to encourage our workforce to learn about health literacy.
- Hosting webinars to increase awareness of health literacy.
- Evaluating the content of the IHS Health Topics website to determine if it meets the Health Literacy and Plain Language guidelines.
- Organizing a Health Literacy Town Hall Twitter focusing on how to communicate clear information to the general public.
What can I do to support Health Literacy?
There are several online provider resources available to increase your knowledge and skills on health literacy.
- Visit the IHS Healthcare Communication website to learn how to engage patients by using the “Ask Me 3” campaign and “teach-back” method to assess patient understanding of health information.
- Use the ARHQ health literacy universal precautions toolkit to learn how to support clear communication and understanding with all patients.
- Assess and document the level of understanding in the Electronic Health Record using patient education codes or similar functionalities.
- Use health literacy assessment tools to evaluate printed materials or videos, such as the:
- Complete a free Centers for Disease Control and Prevention online training:
- Contact the IHS Health Literacy Work Group to share your ideas and best practices.