What is Health Literacy?

Health literacy is “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” (Healthy People 2020).

The skills of individuals are an important part of health literacy, but health literacy is not only about individuals’ skills. Health systems and professionals impact health literacy by making health information and services understandable and actionable. Information from health professionals, the media, and organizations often present information that is difficult to understand and act on. Therefore, equally important as an individual’s skills, are the skills of health professionals to provide health information in a manner appropriate to their audiences. “The interaction between laypersons and health professionals influence the health literacy of individuals, organizations, and society”. (National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy 2010).

Why is Health Literacy Important?

It is estimated that nearly half of American adults, 90 million people, have only basic or below-basic health literacy skills and have difficulty understanding and acting on health information. Persons with limited health literacy skills have higher utilization of treatment services including hospitalization and emergency services and lower utilization of preventive services. They incur medical expenses that are up to four times greater than patients with adequate health literacy skills. The estimated added annual cost to the health care system due to low health literacy is $106-$238 billion. People from all ages, races, income levels and education levels are challenged by this problem. For these reasons and many others, Ohio Health Literacy Partners (OHLP) was created.