Health literacy is the ability of individuals to read, understand, and act upon health-related information. Health literacy also refers to the capacity of professionals and institutions to communicate effectively so that community members can make informed decisions and take appropriate actions to protect and promote their health.
Health literacy affects people's ability to:
- Navigate the healthcare system to get needed services, including locating providers and services, filling out forms, and advocating for themselves
- Share personal information and engage in dialogue with clinicians
- Understand written and oral information given by doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care professionals
- Follow directions in taking medications, preparing for a procedure or test, and scheduling appointments
Low health literacy among individuals is linked to poor health status, limited access to care, late entry into treatment for disease, and higher rates of hospitalization.
While many adults with relatively high levels of education find health-related tasks challenging, low health literacy is more common among adults who did not complete high school or have limited English proficiency.
Health care systems in New York City and across the country have recognized the importance of health literacy and have implemented programs to enhance the skills of their employees and affiliated clinicians.
Watch From Knowledge to Action: Teaching Health Literacy
Learn about the NYC Health Literacy Campaign
Learn about The Mayor's Office Health Literacy Fellowship
Learn about the role of adult education in health literacy
Read about health literate doctors and patients (in PDF)
Resources on health literacy
Read an article by Jane Brody on Health Literacy (in PDF)