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Health literacy

Health literacy is about how people understand information about health and health care, and how they apply that information to their lives, use it to make decisions and act on it.

Health literacy is important because it shapes people’s health and the safety and quality of health care.

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC) separates health literacy in two components:

National Statement on Health Literacy

In August 2014 Australian, state and territory Health Ministers endorsed the Commission’s National Statement on Health Literacy as Australia’s national approach to addressing health literacy.

To address health literacy in a coordinated way in Australia, it is necessary to:

  • embed health literacy into systems and organisational policies and practices
  • ensure that health information is clear, focused and useable and that interpersonal communication is effective
  • integrate health literacy into education for consumers and healthcare providers.

Who can contribute to improving health literacy

Everyone can play a part in addressing health literacy. For example:

  • healthcare organisations can work with consumers to make sure that the information and services they provide are easy to understand, use and act on.
  • healthcare providers can use a range of communication strategies to ensure patients understand their options and share their healthcare decisions.
  • consumer organisations can support consumers to speak up about information and services that are hard to understand.
  • health and education policy organisations can raise awareness and embed the principles of health literacy in their work.
  • people can improve their own health literacy by speaking up, asking questions or asking for help and support if they are provided with information or services that are hard to understand.

Resources

A Framework for Active Partnership with Consumers and the Community (PDF 339KB) has been developed to ensure there are mechanisms in place to actively engage with consumers and the community in order to meet their needs, and develop appropriate services.

Health literacy tools have been developed and are included as appendices in the Guide for Engaging with Consumers and the Community (PDF 1MB)

Health literacy tools

ACSQHC infographics and summary

The ACSQHC has developed a suite of infographics as a tool to assist clinicians, consumers and health service executives understand health literacy and implement strategies to improve it.

The infographics are titled:

  • what is health literacy?
  • why is health literacy important?
  • how can I help my patients understand their health better?
  • what can I do to understand my health better?
  • how can I create a good health literacy environment within my organisation?

Three health literacy summary resources have also been developed that provide more tailored information about improving health literacy to clinicians, consumers and health service executives and managers.

The health literacy summaries and infographics are available on the Commission’s website.

 

Individual health literacy

Individual health literacy is the:

  • skills
  • knowledge
  • motivation
  • capacity of a person to:
    • access
    • understand
    • appraise
    • apply information to make effective decisions about health and health care
    • take appropriate action.

Health literacy environment

The health literacy environment is the:

  • infrastructure
  • policies
  • processes
  • materials
  • people and relationships that make up the health system

The health literacy environment also has an impact on the way in which people:

  • access
  • understand
  • appraise
  • apply health-related information
  • apply health-related services.

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