Skip to main content

Health Literacy

Finding resources and educational materials on clear communication and health literacy

Understanding Health Literacy

The Institute of Medicine offers this definition for health literacy"the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions." 

The US department of Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, in the “National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy” (   states that "Limited health literacy affects people of all ages, races, incomes, and education levels.” From: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2000). Healthy People 2010 (2nd ed.) [with Understanding and Improving Health (vol. 1) and Objectives for Improving Health (vol. 2)]. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. 

Many health organizations are thinking about the impact of culture and health literacy on the patient or the caregiver's ability to understand and follow instructions, take medications in the proper dosages, and on a prescribed schedule, and understand the importance of diet on health and illness.   In order to obtain the best health outcomes patient and/or family literacy is an important consideration.

This guide will provide resources for those who want to understand and teach health literacy concepts.  


Looking for a great PubMed bibliography?

MEDLINE/PubMed Health Literacy Search

The MEDLINE/PubMed health literacy search retrieves citations published in English language journal literature that are the result of research. It is automatically updated by the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.

You may copy and paste this search into the PubMed search bar.  Using this search on August 28, 2015 locates 8749 articles on the topic of health literacy.

(health[ti] AND literacy[ti]) OR ("health literacy" OR "health literate" OR "medical literacy") OR (functional[tw] AND health[tw] AND literacy[tw]) OR numeracy OR ((low literate[ti] OR low literacy[ti] OR literacy[ti] OR illiteracy[ti] OR literate[ti] OR illiterate[ti] OR reading[mh] OR comprehension[mh]) AND (health promotion[major] OR health education[major] OR patient education[major] OR Communication Barriers[major] OR communication[major:noexp] OR Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice[major] OR attitude to health[major])) OR (comprehension[major] AND educational status[major]) OR (family[ti] AND literacy[ti]) OR (("drug labeling" OR Prescriptions [mh]) AND ("comprehension" OR "numeracy")) OR ((cancer[ti] OR diabetes[ti]) AND (literacy[ti] OR comprehension[ti])) OR "adult literacy" OR "limited literacy" OR "patient understanding"[ti] OR (self care [major] AND perception[mh]) OR (comprehension AND food labeling[mh]) OR (comprehension AND informed consent) OR (comprehension AND insurance, health) AND English[la]