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Health Literacy—Why We Need It

Published on Jun 13, 2019
Medically reviewed by Annlouise Assaf, MS, PhD

What is health literacy?

“Hypertension, bradycardia, anaphylaxis…?” “What is this medicine for again?” “Copay, coinsurance?” “What type of specialist should I see?” “How do I manage this condition?” Making your way through the medical world can be tricky for many people, even for people who are well educated or good with numbers.

Health literacy is important for all people because, at some point or another, we must make decisions that impact our health or the health of a loved one.

What’s more, low health literacy is linked to increased emergency room visits and hospitalizations. Read on to learn more about health literacy and steps you can take to help improve your health literacy.

Health literacy is separate from literacy skills. It has nothing to do with reading level, education, or what kind of job a person has. Low health literacy might have a direct, negative effect on a person’s health. The important thing is to work with your healthcare provider to make sure you’re taking the right steps to protect your health.

Annlouise Assaf, PhD
Patient Health Activation Expert.

Health Literacy—Why We Need It


  • 1. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services—Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. America’s Health Literacy: Why We Need Accessible Health Information. Accessed April 4, 2019.
  • 2. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The SHARE Approach—Health Literacy and Shared Decisionmaking: A Reference Guide for Health Care Providers. Accessed March 13, 2019.
  • 3. Pizur-Barnekow K, Darragh A, Johnston M. “I Cried Because I Didn't Know if I Could Take Care of Him”: Toward a Taxonomy of Interactive and Critical Health Literacy as Portrayed by Caregivers of Children with Special Health Care Needs. J Health Commun. 2011;16 Suppl 3:205-221.
  • 4. Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Ask Me3: Good Questions for Your Good Health. Accessed April 4, 2019.
  • 5. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Questions to Ask Your Doctor. Accessed April 4, 2019.
  • 6. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit, 2nd Edition. Accessed April 4, 2019.
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Quick Poll

After reading this article, how likely are you to work with your healthcare provider to make sure you understand what you need to do to best manage your health?


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