What is Health Literacy?

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, Title V, defines health literacy as the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions. This is also the definition that was included in Healthy People 2010 and 2020.


Healthy People 2030 addresses both personal health literacy and organizational health literacy and provides the following definitions:

  • Personal health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.
  • Organizational health literacy is the degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.


The new definitions:

  • Emphasize people’s ability to use health information rather than just understand it
  • Focus on the ability to make “well-informed” decisions rather than “appropriate” ones
  • Incorporate a public health perspective
  • Acknowledge that organizations have a responsibility to address health literacy

DHHS/ODPHP, 2020


See article “Healthy People 2030 Health Literacy Definition Tells Organizations: Make Information and Services Easy to Find, Understand, and Use” at:  


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.