What is Health Literacy?

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Health literacy

What is Health Literacy?

Health Literacy is "the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions" (Healthy People 2010).

Why is it important?

Some of the widespread impacts of poor health literacy include:

  • An increase in  misunderstanding instructions about prescription medication, medication errors, poor comprehension of nutrition labels, and mortality (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 2010)

  • Poorer health status and were less likely to use preventative care. (Nielson-Bohlman, 2004)

  • Individuals with low levels of health literacy are more likely to be hospitalized and have bad disease outcomes (Baker, 2002) and (Schillinger, 2002)

  • Inpatient spending increases by approximately $993 for patients with limited health literacy (Howard, 2004)

  • The annual cost of low health literacy to the U.S. economy was $106 billion to $238 billion (Vernon, 2007)

Who is affected by Health Literacy?

According to the Health Literacy Action Plan, limited health literacy affects people of all ages, races, incomes, and education levels, but the impact of limited health literacy disproportionately affects lower socioeconomic and minority groups.