Health literacy describes the ability of a person to understand information about health and health care to make informed decisions about their own care.
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:
Individual health literacy
Skills, knowledge, motivation and capacity of a person to:
- apply information to make effective decisions about health and health care
- take appropriate action
Health literacy environment
Infrastructure, policies, processes, materials and people and relationships that make up the health system
How can health literacy be improved?
People with low literacy may not have the knowledge required to find, understand and use information about their health and health care.
The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care developed supportive resources on health literacy that provides more tailored information through Fact and Summary Sheets and Infographics about improving health literacy to clinicians, consumers and health service executives and managers.
Who can contribute to improving health literacy?
Everyone can play a part in addressing health literacy.
- 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.
Health literacy resources and tools
- Tips for communicating clearly (PDF 137KB)
- The teach-back method (PDF 97KB)
- Follow-up with consumers (PDF 91KB)
- Encourage questions (PDF 124KB)
- Assessing readability (PDF 98KB)
- Writing health information (PDF136 KB)
- Guide for Engaging with Consumers and the Community (PDF 1MB)
Communicating with health care professionals
A number of tools have been developed for consumers and carers to be informed and to help to communicate with the health care team, and are listed below:
The Make the most of your time with your doctor tool helps you to prepare for a visit to the doctor. The tool enables you to build a list of questions you would like to ask your doctor, and consider questions the doctor might ask. The questions can be printed or emailed to a phone/device for during the appointment.
The question builder (tool) is designed to be used with general practitioners and specialists. It encourages people to ask questions that matter most to them, participate in the appointment and share decisions with the doctor about your own care.
The Top tips for safe Health Care (PDF 548KB) is designed to help consumers, their families, carers and other support people get the most of their health care.
You can use the information in the booklet to talk to your doctor and other healthcare providers, including nurses, pharmacists, specialists, allied health and mental health workers.
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