Health Literacy


Health literacy is the degree to which people have the ability to obtain, understand, and follow the health information given to them.  Health literacy addresses the environmental, political, and social factors that determine health, and influence the patient’s capacity to make informed decisions about their ability to manage illness or disease.  This creative inquiry project examines scientific studies regarding health literacy in order to gain a wider understanding of health literacy issues.  A test can be used to gauge a client’s health literacy by assessing knowledge of medical terminology.  Understanding health literacy can give the healthcare provider a better perspective of a patient’s knowledge of illness or disease. Health literacy can play a role in compliance or noncompliance leading to improved health outcomes and adherence to treatment regimen.


The creative inquiry involved a comprehensive review of 25 scientific articles.  Each article’s main points and findings were summarized to gain knowledge about health literacy and studies related to health literacy.


The findings consistently indicate that verbal and written direction, along with visual displays greatly increases a client’s understanding of their disease and the steps needed to improve well-being.  Low health literacy is more common among the medically underserved people (older adults, minorities, and those with low socioeconomic status), and one-third of the American adult population has insufficient health literacy skills.  Adequate health literacy – knowing enough information to understand health directions – empowers people to make health-benefitting decisions and to properly care for chronic diseases.  It is more efficient for health professionals to assume that all patients have difficulty understanding health information than to test every single patient to determine if they have low health literacy.  In addition, it is estimated that doctors and nurses over-estimate a client’s health literacy level around 40-60% of the time.  By presenting the client with information on a fifth to sixth grade level, paired with both written a visual displays, the client will more easily comprehend and understand the information. 


Numerous studies show that health literacy is a major problem in the U.S.  However, there is not have a good solution in place to alleviate the issue.  Further studies should focus on possible solutions healthcare providers can implement into their practices to help their clients have a greater understanding of their medical condition and directions for care.  Since one-third of the American population demonstrates low health literacy skills, it is more efficient for health care providers to assume that every client has low health literacy.  This ensures that all patients will be able to understand the information presented.  With better communication and understanding, overall health can be drastically improved.