Health Literacy

Understanding Health literacy

The concept of health literacy has evolved as we gain greater understanding of the level of skills needed to navigate the healthcare system. The National Library of Medicine (Selden et al., 2000) provides one of the most widely used and accepted definition of health literacy:

“The degree to which individuals can obtain, process, understand, and communicate about health-related information needed to make informed health decisions.”


As the requirements for literacy increases, we inadvertently make greater assumptions about the understanding and skills of our patients. When promoting patient self-management, we must ensure patients are given the necessary support to make informed decisions. Health care providers must recognize the individual health literacy capabilities of patients and tailor their approach to meet their specific needs.

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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2000. Healthy People 2010. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Originally developed for Ratzan SC, Parker RM. 2000. Introduction. In National Library of Medicine Current Bibliographies in Medicine: Health Literacy. Selden CR, Zorn M, Ratzan SC, Parker RM, Editors. NLM Pub. No. CBM 2000-1. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.