Health Literacy Resources

This page contains resources to help staff at Community Health Centers and Primary Care Associations learn more about health literacy. Please contact the CHAMPS Programs Coordinator, Population Health if you have any questions about these materials or would like to share any other useful 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!
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.

A Model Collaboration to Develop a Health Literate Curriculum
National Academy of Medicine (NAM)
Commentary on a Health Literate Care Model to educate and train physicians in health literacy skills, and to advise key strategies to achieve productive interactions between informed, engaged patients and families and prepared, proactive health care teams.

Communications Tool: Plain Language for Public Health
Public Health Communications Collaborative
A guide to support public health communicators in creating messaging to advance health literacy, build trust in your organization as a source of information, and promote overall community health.

Community Toolkit for Addressing Health Misinformation
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
A toolkit to help navigate the threat of misinformation.

Consensus Organizational Health Literacy Quality Improvement Measures
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)
Consensus from experts on the usefulness, meaningfulness, feasibility, and face validity of 22 measures that can help organizations seeking to become more health literate.

Everyday Words for Public Health Communication
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Thesaurus of frequently-used health-related words and their common, everyday alternatives designed to help health professionals communicate more clearly and effectively.

Effective Communication for Healthcare Teams
TRAIN Learning Network
Course that includes Introduction, Health Literacy, Cultural Competency, and Limited English Proficiency (LEP) modules.

Glossary of Health Coverage and Medical Terms
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
Glossary with many commonly used terms and definitions that is intended to be educational, if not comprehensive.

Guide to Getting & Using Your Health Records
Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology
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
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
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
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)
Resources to help health care professionals and delivery organizations make information easier to understand and systems easier to navigate.

Health Literacy
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Clearinghouse of planning and evaluation tools for implementing health literacy.

Health Literacy
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Innovative ideas, goals of a successful health information encounter, and training, toolkits and workshops on health literacy through clear communication.

Health Literacy Patient Survey
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)
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 (AHRQ)
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.

Health Literate Care Model
Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Tool for weaving health literacy principles from the Universal Precautions Toolkit into the widely adopted Chronic Care Model and infuse values of health literacy into an organization’s planning and operations.

Improving Communication – Improving Care
American Medical Association (AMA)
Report describing how health care organizations can ensure effective, patient-centered communication with diverse patients and communities.

Language, Interpretation, and Translation: A Clarification and Reference Checklist in Service of Health Literacy and Cultural Respect
National Academy of Medicine (NAM)
Manuscript describing complex problems of language, interpretation, gesture, and translation and recommending solutions.

Plain Language Action and Information Network
U.S. General Services Administration
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 (NIH)
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 (NIH)
A simple, five-section training module for health care professionals on how to implement plain language practices.

Plain Writing and Clear Communications
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
Summarizes HHS commitment to plain language and provides links for individuals to submit feedback on HHS documents.

Prepare 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–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
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 (HHS)
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!
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.

Strategies for Developing Culturally Driven Public Health Communications
Public Health Communications Collaborative 
A guide with strategies and tools to support the development of public health communications in effectively communicating with multicultural audiences.

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

Ten Attributes of Health Literate Health Care Organizations
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)
Page displaying the many AHRQ resources that can assist healthcare systems address health literacy and each of 10 attributes of health literate healthcare organizations.

The Things We Say
Jayshil J. Patel, MD, Journal of the American Medical Association (2018)
Physician’s argument for the importance of precise, compassionate language in healthcare.

Three Ps of Health Literacy
Decoda Literacy Solutions
Infographic on using plain language and simple organization to increase health literacy.