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Health Literacy: Educating Individuals, Families, and Communities

by Sakiera Malone, MA, Virtual Student Federal Service Intern, Indian Health Service

Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. October is Health Literacy Month and for 20 years organizations around the world have been bringing attention to the importance of making health information accessible and comprehensive for everyone.

It’s essential that health care professionals are engaging individuals, families, and communities to ensure that they can make informed decisions about their health. The health care system can be complex and difficult to navigate, so it’s important for patients to understand their health and treatment information. Miscommunication can occur even with the best intentions. For example, health care professionals may believe they’re thoroughly communicating information to their patients, and patients may believe they understand the information being provided or may feel embarrassed to speak-up and ask questions.

Some of the difficulties among patients may include:

  • Comprehending information such as test results and prescribed medication
  • Accessing adequate health services due to limitations in transportation and distance to facilities
  • Communicating with health professionals due to language barriers

Additional differences among individuals that may impact their health decisions are age, culture, education level, and physical and mental limitations. Low health literacy can contribute to poor health outcomes and the need for more inpatient care. People with limited health literacy are also less likely to engage in preventative care such as mammograms and vaccinations and are more likely to experience high mortality rates.

How Can You Promote Health Literacy?

Along with 11 other agencies, IHS has participated in the Department of Health and Human Services Health Literacy Workgroup to collaborate and establish key priorities needed to improve health literacy.

Health literacy is important and there are many ways that we can get involved in making health information accessible and comprehensive for everyone. You can take action by:

Related content:

IHS Health Literacy

Health Literacy: Using Everyday Words to Support Wellness

Navajo Wellness Model: Keeping the Cultural Teachings Alive to Improve Health

Sakiera Malone, MA, Virtual Student Federal Service Intern, Indian Health Service
Sakiera Malone, MA, is a Virtual Student Federal Service intern with the Indian Health Service Health Promotion/Disease Prevention Program. She is also a MSW candidate and Behavioral Health Workforce Integration Service and Education scholar in the Substance Use Disorder Intervention Fellowship program at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.