Health Literacy

According to the American Medical Association, poor health literacy is a stronger predictor of health outcomes than age, income, employment status, education level and race[6]. Approximately 90 million adults in the United States are believed to lack the basic literacy skills necessary to manage their health. They have difficulty finding, understanding and using health information.  To quantify, health care for individuals with low or basic health literacy is believed to account for more than $58 billion annually in the U.S[7]

Low health literacy has serious consequences. New research from UnitedHealth Group has shown that those with lower health literacy have higher rates of ER and hospital use, lower use of preventive care and higher health costs than those with higher health literacy. Health literacy is more than simply the ability to read.  People who are health literate, are skilled at using math, listening, writing, speaking and applying analytical decision-making skills in order to make sound health decisions.

Understanding Health Literacy

Health literacy refers to the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand the basic information and services needed to make informed health decisions.1 Limited health literacy is associated with1:

  • Poor health
  • Less frequent use of preventive services
  • Increased rates of hospitalization
  • Increased health care costs
  • Negative psychological effects
  • Unintended (wrong) decisions about ones own health or that of a love one 

Why Does Health Literacy Matter?

Health literacy affects a patient's ability to navigate the health care system, including2:

  • Filling out forms and locating health care providers and services
  • Sharing personal information such as medical history
  • Engaging in self-care and chronic disease management
  • Understanding mathematic concepts such as probability and risk
  • Understanding the full consequences of ones decisions