Understanding the Language of Health (Health Literacy)

Please click the Quiz link to the left or below once you have taken the course

In today’s shifting, and often complex, healthcare environment, personal health literacy stands
as a very important skill to have. It involves understanding how to locate and effectively utilize
the healthcare resources available to you, as a patient. These skills can translate to making
better informed decisions regarding your health and the health of those you care about.
The European Health Literacy Consortium defines health literacy as “linked to literacy and
entails people’s knowledge, motivation and competences to access, understand, appraise and
apply health information in order to make judgements and take decisions in everyday life
concerning health care, disease prevention and health promotion to maintain or improve quality
of life during the life course.” There are other definitions available, but many of them tend to
stray towards this general theme of accessing, understanding, and applying health information.
A grasp of basic health literacy can lend a hand in the following tasks:

  • Communicating one’s concerns and questions effectively with medical professionals
  • Understanding how to read and interpret a prescription so the medication can be taken
    as intended
  • Differentiating between credible and noncredible health-related information online
  • Weighing the risks and benefits of critical decisions pertaining to one’s health

Individuals with limited health literacy skills may experience difficulties with the aforementioned
tasks and thus may be at higher risk of health-related problems. Variables that can lead to
limited health literacy skills include: recency of immigration, economic status, familiarity with the
predominant language used in the area, age, level of education, and possession of cognitive
impairments. Understanding the demographic variance in health literacy can be a very
multifaceted discussion. As the World Health Organization explains, “Capacity and competence
related to health literacy vary according to context, culture and setting. They depend on
individual and system factors. These factors include communication skills, knowledge of health
topics, culture and the specific characteristics of the health care, public health and other
relevant systems and settings where people obtain and use health information. When these
services or systems, for example, require knowledge or a language level that is too high for the
user, health suffers.”

Raising public understanding of healthcare literacy is the responsibility of multiple parties that
include governments and sectors relating to healthcare; however, individuals can also take
action to better their own skills.
Steps a person can take to improve health literacy skills include:

  • Writing down or recording information from medical professionals
  • Asking medical professionals to speak in a more simple language, avoiding healthcare
    jargon.
  • Asking questions when something is unclear and being sure to know to call if there are
    any questions following an appointment.
  • Being actively aware of patient resources available to assist with communicating with
    medical professionals.

Other ways of improving one’s health literacy include:

  • Providing feedback on websites that are unclear
  • Consulting with staff at your location library about locating healthcare information and
    taking classes on digital literacy that might be offered through your local library or
    another reputable organization.
  • Attending health education programs hosted at local hospitals, public or hospital
    libraries, community centers, or faith-based organizations.
  • enrolling in language courses for those less familiar with the language used by
    healthcare personnel

Finally, note that building health literacy skills is a lifelong process and that no one can be up to
date all the time. Thus, it’s important to keep an open mind on what you might not know and
what resources you can refer to best assist you in your situation.

Health literacy is an important skill to have. With enough background, one can effectively
unpack their medical concerns and work with medical professionals to ensure that they are
receiving the type of care and treatment most appropriate to their situation.

Please click Understanding the Language of Health (Health Literacy) Quiz
link below to continue

Human Health Project (HHP) Programs

Human Health Project (HHP) Programs HHP is a comprehensive holistic health literacy charity. Explore our Real World Data on health conditions like Migraine and Lupus, featuring Causes/Triggers, Treatments, outcomes, and side effects (more conditions being added). Dive into our Learning Academy's short patient education video courses covering topics like Your Rights as a Patient, How to Research Online as an ePatient, and Peer-led Patient Advocacy Workshops. Don't miss our upcoming and past Peer-to-Peer event videos.