Health Literacy

The importance of health literacy

Nearly 9 out of 10 adults struggle to understand health information. And it's more than just the purely medical information. The ability to manage one's health care depends on understanding appointment slips, forms, prescription labels, and all the other information in the health care environment.

Without clear understanding, people are more likely to:

  • skip necessary visits
  • go to the emergency room more often
  • have a harder time managing their health.

People of all ages, races, incomes and education levels can have low health literacy. Reading skills are only a part of health literacy. Even people with strong reading and writing skills can face these challenges.
 

Best practices

  • All content is written to no higher than a 5th to 8th grade reading level.
  • Understand the target audience.
  • Make it clear what action(s) the patient should take.
  • Explain all terms. 
  • Use a conversational tone.
  • Don’t use medical jargon.
  • Don’t use complex grammar. Keep sentences short and to the point.
     

Additional resources

English Campaign: The A to Z of alternative words

Simple Words and Phrases

Plain Language Thesaurus (National Center for Health Marketing)