Health Literacy Resources

Health literacy is the ability to:

  • Obtain, process, and understand basic health information
  • Make appropriate healthcare decisions based on that information, and
  • Access and/or navigate the healthcare system

Nearly 9 in 10 American adults have limited health literacy, which means they lack some of the essential skills to manage their health. Limited health literacy rates are especially high among older adults, people with limited education, racial and ethnic minorities, people living in poverty, and people with Limited English Proficiency (LEP).

Patients with limited health literacy are more likely to not comply with care plans, miss appointments, fail to complete forms, take medication incorrectly, and ask fewer questions of their healthcare providers. This often leads to worse health outcomes for patients, and to additional strain on healthcare staff and systems.

Because it is impossible to look at a patient and determine their health literacy level, the best way to help patients with limited health literacy is to implement universal precautions, which are designed to make communication clearer for everyone. Universal precautions for health literacy include improving spoken and written communications, increasing patient self-management and empowerment, and improving patient support systems.

Plain language is defined as communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it. Using plain language is key to improving spoken and written communications.

This webpage contains a variety of resources related to health literacy and plain language, including training materials, implementation best practices, and more.

Always Use Teach-Back! Training Toolkit
Always Use Teach-Back!
www.teachbacktraining.org
Toolkit designed to help health care providers use the teach-back method to support patients and families throughout the care continuum, especially during transitions between healthcare settings. Includes a 45-minute learning module, self- and peer-evaluation forms, and other tips and tools to help providers learn and use this evidence-based communication improvement method.

Everyday Words for Public Health Communication
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
www.cdc.gov/other/pdf/everydaywords-060216-final.pdf
Thesaurus of frequently-used health-related words and their common, everyday alternatives designed to help health professionals communicate more clearly and effectively.

Guide to Getting & Using Your Health Records
Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology
www.healthit.gov/how-to-get-your-health-record
Designed for patients, parents, and caregivers who want to obtain, use, and understand their health or medical records.

Health Communication Mobile Application
The Comfort Communication Project
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/health-communication/id697289957?mt=8
Free mobile application for Apple iOS devices designed to help clinicians navigate difficult conversations with patients by providing evidence-based communication tips and tools.

Health Insurance Literacy Resources
CHAMPS
http://champsonline.org/tools-products/cross-disciplinary-resources/outreach-enrollment-healthcare-reform/health-insurance-literacy
Short guide on how to use health insurance, common health insurance terms, and how to determine where to seek care for injury or illness.

Health Literacy
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
www.cdc.gov/healthliteracy
Clearinghouse of planning and evaluation tools for implementing health literacy.

Health Literacy
National Patient Safety Foundation
www.npsf.org/?page=healthliteracy
Summarizes the extent of, causes of, and ways to address limited health literacy.

Health Literacy Patient Survey
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
www.ahrq.gov/professionals/quality-patient-safety/quality-resources/tools/literacy-toolkit/healthlittoolkit2-tool17d.html
A survey with 42 questions designed to help healthcare facilities assess the language and communication needs of their patient population.

Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
www.ahrq.gov/professionals/quality-patient-safety/quality-resources/tools/literacy-toolkit/index.html
Toolkit designed to help primary care practices reduce the complexity of healthcare system by increasing patient understanding of health information and enhancing support for patients of all health literacy levels.

Improving Communication – Improving Care
American Medical Association
https://accrualnet.cancer.gov/sites/accrualnet.cancer.gov/files/conversation_files/pcc-consensus-report.pdf
Report describing how health care organizations can ensure effective, patient-centered communication with diverse patients and communities.

Plain Language Action and Information Network
U.S. General Services Administration
www.plainlanguage.gov
Website compiling legal information, writing guidelines, training materials, and sample documents related to plain language for government communications.

A Plain Language Checklist for Reviewing Your Document
National Institutes of Health
www.nih.gov/sites/default/files/institutes/plain-language/nih-plain-language-checklist.pdf
Two-page checklist to help health center staff review documents for key plain language elements.

Plain Language: Getting Started or Brushing Up
National Institutes of Health
www.nih.gov/institutes-nih/nih-office-director/office-communications-public-liaison/clear-communication/plain-language/plain-language-getting-started-or-brushing
A simple, five-section training module for health care professionals on how to implement plain language practices.

Plain Language Planner for Palliative Care
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
http://communicatecomfort.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/PLP-Card-DIGITAL.pdf
One-page tool to help providers quickly translate common palliative care terms.

Plain Writing and Clear Communications
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
www.hhs.gov/open/plain-writing/index.html
Summarizes HHS commitment to plain language and provides links for individuals to submit feedback on HHS documents.

Prepare Advance Directive Library
PrepareforYourCare.org
https://prepareforyourcare.org/advance-directive-library
Offers easy-to-read, legally binding advance directive forms that patients can use to improve communication with providers about their healthcare wishes. Available for various states in English and Spanish.

Promising Practices for Patient-Centered Communication with Vulnerable Populations
The Commonwealth Fund
www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/fund-reports/2006/aug/promising-practices-for-patient-centered-communication-with-vulnerable-populations–examples-from-ei
Report summarizing nine promising practices that healthcare leaders can use as starting points to develop patient-centered communication at their organizations.

National Assessment of Adult Literacy
National Center for Education Statistics
https://nces.ed.gov/naal/
Summarizes the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy findings  and subsequent related assessments.

National Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) Standards
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
www.thinkculturalhealth.hhs.gov/clas
Set of 15 action steps intended to advance health equity, improve healthcare quality, and help eliminate health disparities by providing a blueprint for addressing the impact of culture and language on health.

Say Ah!
Say-Ah.org
www.say-ah.org
Provides training and resources to help providers and patients communicate more clearly, including a simple patient curriculum on accessing and using medical information, wallet cards with tips for talking to your doctor, and more.

Teaching Aids: The Teach-Back Method
North Carolina Program on Health Literacy
http://nchealthliteracy.org/teachingaids.html
Three short videos of providers from various specialty fields demonstrating the teach-back method with patients.

The Things We Say
Jayshil J. Patel, MD, Journal of the American Medical Association (2018)
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2670258
Physician’s argument for the importance of precise, compassionate language in healthcare.